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FUTURISMO – Italian Avant-Garde

By Melanie Damani, Art Consultant, Hottinger Art

(II/III Series on Avant-Garde Painting)

Futurism is the avant-garde movement of Italy, founded in Milan in 1909 by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. He led the movement for over 30 years until his death in 1944.

Marinetti started by publishing his Manifesto of Futurism on 5 February 1909 in La gazzetta dell’Emilia. The same article was then reproduced in the French newspaper Le Figaro on Saturday 20 February 1909. The aim of Futurism was to embrace modernity in every way possible. Soon, young and insurgent artists such as Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916), Carlo Carrà (1881-1966), Giacomo Balla (1871-1958), Gino Severini (1883-1966) and the composer Luigi Russolo (1885-1947) joined the movement. The Futurists admired the power of technology generated by humans over nature and were passionate nationalists.

Luigi Russolo, Carlo Carrà, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Umberto Boccioni and Gino Severini in front of Le Figaro in Paris on 9 February 1912

Manifestos and words-led expressions of idea initiated this disruptive movement, but visual and performing arts, politics, and even advertising quickly followed. In fact, the founding manifesto did not contain an artistic programme, which the Futurists attempted to create in their subsequent “Technical Manifesto of Futurist Painting” in 1914. Motion, perspective and time were looked at from a completely new angle.

Futurism’s style evolved over three decades from fractured elements to a mechanical language and eventually to aerial imagery. Futurists celebrated Italy joining World War I, which also constituted part of the movement’s narrative. In a later stage, it also created a complicated relationship between Futurism and Italian fascism.

Carlo Carrà (1881-1966), Rhythms of Objects, 1911,Oil on canvas (Source: Pinacoteca di Brera, 2019)

As the 2014 Guggenheim exhibition on Futurism illustrated, the movement was also full of paradoxes: “(…) while predominantly anti-feminine, it had active female members; while calling for a breakdown between “high” and “low” culture, it valued painting above other forms of expression; while glorifying the machine, it shied away from the mechanised medium of film” (V. Greene, Italian futurism, 1909-1944 : reconstructing the universe, New York, Guggenheim Museum, 2014, p. 16).

Fortunato Depero (1892-1960), Advert for the mineral water San Pellegrino (Source: Fondazione La Triennale di Milano, 2019)

Italian Futurism Market

The majority of Futurism’s collectors are located in Italy, with the second-largest market in the United States of America followed by a few countries elsewhere in Europe. From an institutional perspective, the Peggy Guggenheim in Venice is the home of a number of Futurism artworks, partly on loan from private collectors. The rest of the Italian avant-garde production is spread over different museums and public institutions in Italy, with a few exceptions again in the United States of America.

Source: Artprice

The market for Italian Futurists is not significant but has the advantage of being quite steady. It is a market of connoisseurs. However, after the 2014 retrospective ” Italian Futurism 1909-1944; Reconstructing the Universe” exhibition at the Guggenheim in New York, the main artists of this movement have re-gained interest from the general public on a more international scale. In fact, after the record price of USD 29,659,538 (incl. premium) achieved for Ballerina by Gino Severini (see below) at Sotheby’s London on June 2008, Umberto Boccioni sold his work Testa, Luce, Ambiante (see below) for USD 12,507,033 (incl. premium) in February 2018, again at Sotheby’s London.

Gino Severini (1883-1966), Ballerina, 1915, oils on canvas (source: Artnet, 2019)
Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916), Testa, Luce, ambiante, 1912, oils on canvas (Source: Sotheby’s, 2018)

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