The late 19th and early 20th centuries gave birth to modern marvels previous generations could scarcely dream of. Many of those marvels rested squarely in the realm of technology; Edison's practical incandescent lamp was newly patented, the Ford Model T had just reached the assembly line, and powered flight was finally more than just a sketch in da Vinci's codices. With all this going on, no group got quite as swept up in technology's promise for the future as the Italian Futurists. For them, planes, trains, and automobiles weren't just the avant garde. In many ways, the future was a way of life, consuming national identity and even approaching religious experience.
Futurism got its start in 1909 with Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. A poet and fierce nationalist, Marinetti penned The Futurist Manifesto after a drive in Milan resulted in a (evidently life-altering) minor car accident. In the manifesto — the first of many written in the years that followed — he exalts speed and violence, along with a wholesale rejection of the past in favor of a technological present. In one of his many exultations, he writes, "We declare that the splendor of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed."
"We declare that the splendor of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed."
Marinetti drew in followers quickly, including preeminent artists like Umberto Boccioni, who would all experiment with Marinetti's ideals in painting, sculpture, music, poetry, photography, and film. Futurism became a major force in the art world and a bona fide social movement, albeit a contentious and often paradoxical one. It was unabashedly anti-woman, but Benedetta Cappa was both a major figure in its history and Marinetti's wife. Futurists called for anarchy, but found themselves often aligned (perhaps unavoidably) with Mussolini's Fascists. Nevertheless, their art was incredibly influential up until Marinetti's death in 1944, informing later movements like Art Deco and Dadaism.
The Guggenheim Museum in New York City is currently showing an exhibit entitled Italian Futurism, 1909-1944: Reconstructing the Universe. There, some of the finest examples of Futurist art can be found, some of which you can see below. Take the trip if you get the chance.
Photos courtesy of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum