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  • NaHyun Kate Park

[EN] Constructs of Modernism


Constructs of Modernism

박나현 Park NaHyun Kate

Umberto Boccioni’s essay “Futurist Painting: Technical Manifesto

-Understanding historically important concepts of modernity, modernism and avant-garde as objects of critical study within the visual cultures of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Futurism was both an artistic and social movement that started in Italy in the early 20th century. It was mainly an Italian phenomenon, under the influence of artist F.T. Marinetti. Marinetti began the movement in his “Futurist Manifesto,” which was published on 5 February 1909 in La gazzetta dell'Emilia, an article then reproduced in the French daily newspaper Le Figaro on 20 February 1909. F.T. Marinetti was soon joined by other four painters Umberto Boccioni, Carlo Carrà, Giacomo Balla, Gino Severini and the composer Luigi Russolo. The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism forcefully denounced the Passeists (being all the artists and poets of the past) and announced the creation of a new tradition, that of the Futurists. Marinetti set forth an eleven point plan which called for aggression, conflict and struggle, the praise of youth, speed and technology. “we will glorify war – the world’s only hygiene – militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of the freedom bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for, and scorn for women.” The following Umberto Boccioni’s essay “Futurist Painting: Technical Manifesto,” Boccioni presents Futurist’s unique perception of form, color, speed and space, and illuminates the problems of perception, reality, and painterly technique.

Umberto Boccioni, Costruzione orizzontale (volumi orizzontali), 1912, Huile sur toile, 95 x 95,5 cm, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich

The founding manifesto did not have an optimistic artistic view, which the Futurists attempted to produce in their following essay “Technical Manifesto of Futurist Painting.” This committed them to a "universal dynamism", which was to be closely signified in art works. Objects in reality were not separate from one another or from their surroundings: "The sixteen people around you in a rolling motor bus are in turn and at the same time one, ten four three; they are motionless and they change places... The motor bus rushes into the houses which it passes, and in their turn the houses throw themselves upon the motor bus and are blended with it.

The essay states that the “growing need of truth is no longer satisfied with Form and Color as they have been understood hitherto. The gesture which we would reproduce on canvas shall no longer be a fixed moment in universal dynamism. It shall be the dynamic sensation itself (made eternal.)” Here, Boccioni urges to create the dynamics itself, rather than merely creating a fixed moment. This is accomplished by painting the figure, especially his leg, numerous times, because “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.” Futurists insist that the perceived world is in constant movement. The painting depicts a dog whose legs, tail and leash - and the feet of the person walking it - have been multiplied to a blur of movement.

It is clear that Boccioni rejects the traditional form of art when he says “the contraction of the pictures has hitherto been foolishly traditional.” It seems that futurism that he supports reject the glory of Italy’s cultural past, in obvious preference of new development in science and technology. He argues that we should embrace the concept of change by stating that “victorious science has nowadays disowned its past in order the better to serve the material needs of our time; we would that arts, disowning its past, were able to serve at last the intellectual needs which are within us.” He despises the obedience to custom and he argues that the old ways of tradition should be abolished, that an innovative structure of artistic rebellion needs to be arisen.

Umberto Boccioni, Elasticity (elasticità),1912, Huile sur toile,100.06 x 100.06 cm, Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan

He argues that the every detail in a painting has a consequence on the circumstance of the overall art product. A painting is more than just its subject presented, therefore many details and aspects should not be ignored by the viewer, because they play a great meaning in the output of their experiences. He supports this idea by stating “you must render the whole of its surrounding atmosphere.”

In the manifesto, Boccioni declares that “innate complementariness” is essential and necessary and that the “time has passed for our sensations in painting to be whispered. We wish them in future to sing and re-echo upon our canvases in defining and triumphant flourishes.” This concerns the futurist ideal of color is represented effectively as he says “The human face is yellow, red, green, violet, and blue.” In the Boccioni’s view, color is strong and vibrant, and composition is never as simple as flat tone.

For instance, in Umberto Boccioni’s work “The City Rises (1910),” this use of colors is extremely predominant. Boccioni’s work represents scenes of construction and manual labor with an enormous red horse in the center that workmen seem to struggle to manage. They clearly seem to be integrating into the space surrounding it to complete the work. The work shows the Futurists concepts that emphasize the dynamism, speed, energy, power of the machine and the vitality, change, and restlessness.

As shown in the essay, Futurist’s perception of nude is somewhat negative. Boccioni powerfully argues that there should not be painting of the nude figures. This is directly proclaimed in the essay that Futurists “fights against the nude in painting, as nauseous and as tedious as adultery in literature,” and that “nothing is immoral in our eyes; it is the monotony of the nude against which we fight. We are told that the subject is nothing and that everything lies in the manner of treating it. That is agreed; we too, admit that. But this truism, unimpeachable and absolute fifty years ago, is no longer so today with regard to the nude, since artists obsessed with the desire to expose the bodies of their mistresses have transformed the Salons into arrays of unwholesome flesh.”

Lastly, Boccioni concludes the essay by linking futurism to Divisionism. He says that “painting cannot exist today without Divisionism.” It is because the Futurist painters were slow to develop a distinctive style and subject matter, and they used the techniques of Divisionism in the early 1920’s.

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