Mr Not So Curious and I saw the Italian Futurism show at the Guggenheim Museum when we were in New York City a week ago.
I became interested in this movement in Italian cultural life because I am very curious about the antecedents and origins of the rise of fascism and Nazism in Europe. Not necessarily the rather obvious political origins, but the more subtle and deep-seated cultural origins
Not exactly a topic for a blog about design, architecture, and style, you think.
But, in fact, it is not so great a distance from culture and art to politics. That distance was even shorter in the 1900’s through the 1930’s and very short when it came to Italian Futurism and fascism.
The Italian Futurists were both an artistic movement and a political one. They wrote extensively and published manifestos outlining their ideas and thoughts. In the 1920’s, as fascism rose in Italy, they saw themselves as the artistic representation of this political movement.
Like fascism, the Futurists glorified war, encouraged hatred, and declared that wars and revolutions were necessary for human progress. As one of their leaders wrote, the intention was “to destroy museums, libraries, academies of every sort. We intend to glorify war—the only hygiene of the world—militarism, patriotism, the destructive gestures of anarchists, beautiful ideas worth dying for, and contempt for woman.”
It was the aesthetics of violence.
Like Mussolini, they wanted to create a new Italian greatness that would push Italy toward “ferocious conquest”. As one of their leaders wrote in 1913, “It takes blood, it requires death.” This statement was written one year before World War I, which the Futurists welcomed as an opportunity for “tearing out and scorching the deepest roots” of the ideals of peace and humanity which had finally become part of the culture of Europe.
Even the slaughter of that war did not stop them. They continued to glorify the cult of the machine and the necessity to destroy bourgeois culture which they saw as weak, “effeminate”, and sedentary.
It seems almost incredible now that this kind of thinking could so influence painting, architecture, dance, and photography to say nothing of politics and society.
If I lived in early 20th century Italy would I have discerned that this cultural milieu would become a petri dish for the development of fascism?
Are there artistic and cultural movements in existence now that are also sending messages about what direction we are headed politically? I truly don’t know, but I plan to be much more observant as a result of seeing this startling exhibit.
I must add, however, that the art work was fascinating, often compelling.
Here are some examples, taken from the book that accompanies the exhibit, Italian Futurism 1909 – 1944: Reconstructing the Universe, edited by Vivien Greene.