Futurism from Foundation to World War: The Art and Politics of an Avant-Garde Movement

Sunday, January 4, 2015: 2:30 PM
Green Room (New York Hilton)
Ernest Ialongo, Hostos Community College, City University of New York
The Italian Futurist movement has come back into vogue with its centenary in 2009 and the landmark exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. The cultural influence of this movement on the modern era is undisputed, whether we look at paintings, literature, poetry, sculpture, architecture, music, or advertising. It is also undisputed that this avant-garde movement was deeply involved in the politics of both Liberal and Fascist Italy. Futurist politics were characterized by a pronounced nationalism and imperialism, and were known for the mantra that war was the “world’s only hygiene.” Of course, the Futurists were also known, at least in their early years, for advancing radical ideas more associated with the left, such as republicanism, anticlericalism, and workers’ advancement through revolution. There is no consensus on how to narrate Futurist politics, or their relationship to Futurist art. Were the politics more of the left or the right? Should the politics be studied in isolation, or as integral to the broad “Futurist Reconstruction of the Universe”?

I take the latter approach and offer an interpretation that unifies the art and politics of the Futurist movement from its foundation in 1909 through to Italy’s early years in World War I. I argue that the Futurists themselves did not differentiate between their cultural initiatives to modernize Italy or their political interventionism. In looking at key moments in the political evolution of the movement, and the corresponding artwork of the period, I show that Futurism offered a confused political message in its first years, mixing elements of the left and right but after the Libyan War, and especially in the Interventionist period and the early years of the war, the political message became more stridently nationalistic and bellicose, and such themes became prevalent in the art of the period.

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