Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Need for Speed

Ivo Pannaggi, Speeding Train (Treno in corsa), 1922, oil on canvas, 100 x 120 cm
Fondazione Carima–Museo Palazzo Ricci, Macerata, Italy. Photo: Courtesy Fondazione Cassa di risparmio della Provincia di Macerata

The Guggenheim in New York, with its utopian form obedient to laws of physics more than the needs of its inhabitants, is the perfect venue for Italian Futurism, 1909-1944: Reconstructing the Universe, a survey of a morally flawed movement guided by style and dogma. Futurism began in literature with the 1909 publication of a manifesto by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. Aligned with the rise of Fascism, it was meant to shake things up, and courted controversy by promulgating war and lashing out against feminism. Inflammatory tenets aside, it glorified technology and speed, which have thrived in modern Italy in the form of sleek Ferraris. Nonetheless, many Futurist artifacts made lasting impressions, and hundreds are gathered here by curator Vivien Greene.
Tullio Crali, Before the Parachute Opens (Prima che si apra il paracadute), 1939, oil on panel, 141 x 151 cm
Casa Cavazzini, Museo d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Udine, Italy, © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/SIAE, Rome
Photo: Claudio Marcon, Udine, Civici Musei e Gallerie di Storia e Arte

One of the main themes of Futurism was capturing movement, and thus time. In this respect, it crossed over with Cubism, although Futurism was far more concerned with speed and the political implications of its many genres. The Guggenheim show includes monuments familiar from textbooks, notably Boccioni's bronze sculpture, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (1913). But it is largely fleshed out with examples of literature, photography, film, textiles and clothing, and furniture and homeware. Graphic design and typography were particularly ripe expressive milieus for this movement that relied on verbal bombast and propaganda. One of the most powerful works is the final painting, at the zenith of the ramp—Tullio Crali's Before the Parachute Opens (1939) in which the skydiving soldier appears to be made of bronze, as if we're sitting at a dizzying height above a monumental statue looking down at its domain. Like a number of Futurist paintings, it's a snapshot of several dimensions.
Christopher Wheeldon's DGV: Danse à Grand Vitesse. Photo credit Paul Kolnik.
The urge to capture the dynamism and thrill of speed remain inspirations. Coincidentally, in its final week of the winter season, New York City Ballet performed Christopher Wheeldon's DGV: Danse à Grand Vitesse, to Michael Nyman's MGV: Musique à Grand Vitesse (both riff on the French bullet train moniker, TGV). The set, designed by the fortuitously named Jean-Marc Puissant, illustrates the effects of speed, its sheets of translucent mesh peeling off the floor as if sucked up in the wake of a passing vehicle or speedboat. The dance is full of rapid, forceful sections, and the dancers themselves become emblematic of a utopian mammal—sleek, muscular, fast, idealized. The old Futurists might have been pleased but for the prominence and relative equality of the women, and the peaceable intent.

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