From its foundation in Feb. 1909 through WWII, futurism developed into the first truly international cultural-political avant-garde. Its aim was a revolutionary transformation of all spheres of life and its influence extended to the whole of Europe, Asia, and the Americas. Combating the traditionalism and provincialism of turn-of-the-century European culture, the movement sought to found a cosmopolitan (but often nationalist) counterculture based on the exaltation of youth, speed, violent revolt, innovation, and experimentation. Hence the movement’s name: the label “Future-ism” denoting at once adoration of the new and struggle against the prevalence of “past-ism” or passatismo/passéisme (the idolatry of the past). In its first decade of existence Futurism became the first full-fledged cultural/political avant-garde of our century, gathering together painters, musicians, architects, political revolutionaries, and poets from several European nations. A key progenitor of later movements such as Dada, Vorticism, Surrealism, and Fluxus, Futurism had a powerful formative influence not only on the cultural atmosphere of Italy during the Fascist era (1922-1945), but also on 20th century culture as a whole. Its contemporary legacies are many and extend from popular culture to the experimental art of our time.
This seminar will examine the movement’s various manifestations in Italy, France, England, Russia, Spain, Latin America, and Eastern Europe. In addition to Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, a wide range of writers and visual artists will be considered, including A. G. Bragaglia, Apollinaire, Mayakovsky, Malevich, Lissitzky, and Léger. Topics will include: machines and culture; the theater of surprise and futurist performance art; Futurism’s ties to anarchism, bolshevism, and fascism; words-in-freedom poetics; experiments with typography, photography, radio, and film; futurism’s interest in transforming the character of books; futurism’s impact on exhibition design; and futurism’s legacies in postwar culture.