Italian Futurism Collection

1909-1940

Geographical Area: Italy

Related Collections: Russian Avant-garde Collection - Fortunato Depero Collection

Related Topics: The Typographical Renewal

Related Exhibitions: The idea of artThe Avant-garde Applied (1890 – 1950)

The son of an Italian lawyer, Marinetti was born in Alexandria, reared in France, and given his poetic and literary education in Paris. At that time Paris was Europe’s capital of culture and art, where every discovery found a wide and knowledgeable audience. Because he frequented poetic and literary circles, it is very likely that Marinetti saw Mallarm.’s work, precisely because of its poetic framework, and later perhaps also Beauduin’s formulations. Certainly he attended the premiére of Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi and heard his long opening monologue in 1896. Within a few years of settling in Milan, he was nurturing an ambitious project: to found a poetry magazine. In 1905 he launched the explicitly named Poesia (Poetry). The magazine very quickly became not just a showcase for the best European poetry but also a place where innovators could try out their ideas. It was multilingual: authors wrote in their native languages, and Marinetti himself wrote in French, the mother tongue of his education, not his birth. In Poesia, Marinetti and Gian Pietro Lucini published their essay “Inchiesta sul verso libero” (Survey of Free Verse) in 1905. Taking their cue from the poetic innovations introduced in France by Gustave Kahn, they sought to modernize writing by means of a syntax free of centuries-old rules. Their initiative proved successful, and the essay was enlarged and reprinted as a book in 1908. This initiative and others of an artistic and later political nature were the basis for the Futurist movement’s “Foundation Manifesto,” which Marinetti conceived that year and published in provincial Italian newspapers. In February 1909 he brought the full-length Futurist Manifesto to an international audience on the front page of the Paris daily newspaper Le Figaro. The contribution Futurism made to typographic-graphic renewal was central, and continuous over more than thirty years. It was Futurism that also first set the graphics issue on theoretical grounds (as it did with many other issues), by introducing the vogue for the manifesto. Its philosophy was to declare “first” what was to be done “afterwards.” And then to do it. In addition to damning “passéeism” (the cult of the past), museums, academies, and “Venice, Cloaca Maxim,” Marinetti’s manifesto assigned a new mission to literature: “Up to now, Literature has glorified pensive immobility, ecstasy, and sleep. We want to glorify aggressive movement, feverish insomnia, the fast pace, the somersault, the slap and the punch […]. The poet must, with ardor, munificence, and generosity, use all means available to increase the enthusiastic fervor of the primordial elements.” It can be clearly seen that Futurism descended from the great “isms” of the nineteenth century, from Impressionism and Pointillism to Symbolism, because it aimed to fill the void they left with a heroic, positivist dialectic. But at the same time Futurism also aimed to sanction, firmly and decisively, a clean break with all that had gone before—in short, with historical continuity.