Working across multiple genres the Italian Futurists of the 1920s embodied an all-absorbing ambition to promote modernity and futurist ideologies that encompassed a variety of fields ranging from the visual arts to design, music, advertising, fashion and food. Its canonical influence often overlooked due to the movement’s complicated history with fascism, its glorification of war and its inherent misogyny, had despite this an immense influence on art history and the 20th Century. Amongst its most celebrated artists, Giacomo Balla was considered a central figure to the movement. His studies on technology and movement highly informed the Futurist Manifesto and its ideals which to this day evoke a highly saturated avant-garde that existed beyond the visual arts and was moreover considered a lifestyle with an aim to “reconstruct the universe”.
“Indeed, all things move, all things run, all things are rapidly changing. A profile is never motionless before our eyes, but it constantly appears and disappears. On account of the persistency of an image upon the retina, moving objects constantly multiply themselves, their form changes like rapid vibrations, in their mad career. Thus, a running horse has not four legs, but twenty, and their movements are triangular”. (Giacomo Balla)
As a key figure of Italian modernism, Giacomo Balla (1871–1958) is considered one of the most important representatives and founders of Italian Futurism. Born in Turin, the artist attended the Accademia Albertina di Belle Arti and the University of Turin, before relocating to Rome in 1895. Balla worked across multiple artistic genres such as illustration, caricature and portrait painting. In 1899, following his Venice Biennale participation and the exhibition “Esposizione internazionale di belle arti” in Rome, Balla began to show regularly in established galleries around Italy. Informed by Pointillism and Italian Divisionism, his particular interest in light and movement led him to begin instructing Futurists peers such as Gino Severini and Umberto Boccioni. His work “Street Light” (1909), displaying the image of an electric lamp, has been accredited as the very first Futuristic painting. Artificial light and mechanical movement soon became of primary interest for the painter. Balla’s contribution to the Futurism movement reached its peak however when he, alongside artists such as Carlo Carrà and Luigi Russolo signed the monumental second Futurist Manifesto in 1910.
Balla had established the moving car as a symbol for a modern world, and that was, according to the Futurist Manifesto, “more beautiful than the Nike of Samothrace”. The artist extensively studied the modern vehicle which served as a perfect survey for the formal exploration of mechanical movement and velocity, in light of the theoretical concepts of the Futurists. Forms that embodied the danger and the dynamic of the motor became prevalent in the Futurist aesthetic. Geometric forms such as spirals, fragmented, broken shapes, and dizzying perspectives dominated the canvas of the time.
In an attempt to convey these new dynamic mechanics, Balla deconstructed each skeletal fragment to a purely geometric form. Rectangular lines are superimposed with round shapes of wheels that in dynamic succession are repeated across the canvas. The abstracted automobile is a reoccurring motif in the artist’s oeuvre that not only perfectly encapsulated the Futuristic ideology, but is also rendered pictorially through cubistic influences on form and style. From the motor machine to the coffee machine, the Futurists engaged in the rejection of all that was deemed classical, traditional and not industrial. In 1915 Balla and Fortunato Depero signed another Futurist manifesto titled “The Futurist Reconstruction of the Universe”, declaring a cultural revolution across all parts of society. Inspired by the rapid industrialisation that was sweeping through Europe at the time, Balla and his peers celebrated the industrial city and all its futuristic innovations. They determined that Italy’s culture at the time was in decay, static in its traditionalism. Following the belief that human life would be ultimately liberated and enriched by the everyday presence of art, Futurist concepts often bridged the avant-garde and life, feeding the Futuristic notion of the “opera d’arte totale” (the total work of art).
“We will find abstract equivalents for all the forms and elements of the universe, and then we will combine them according to the caprice of our inspiration, to shape plastic complexes which we will set in motion”.
(“The Futurist Reconstruction of the Universe”, 1915)
Futurist Cooking Guide
From “The Futurist Cookbook” by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti