The Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art in Islington, London has launched their first virtual exhibition concentrating on Futurism’s relationship with the Italian pictorial tradition. This online exhibition features sixty works, half from the first ten years of the Futurist movement (1909-1919), including paintings from the Estorick’s permanent collection, and the other half spanning the history of art from Ancient Greece to Baroque Rome. The exhibition shows a new side to Futurist art by comparing it with ancient art and the Old Masters, challenging the idea that it was entirely opposed to art of the past.
This exhibition questions the idea that Italian Futurism was entirely opposed to art of the past by showing how the Italian artistic tradition was appropriated by the Futurists during the movement’s first phase (1909 – c.1919). The five rooms trace Futurism’s engagement with different periods, from classical art, through Byzantium, to the early Renaissance of Paolo Uccello and Piero della Francesca, the High Renaissance of Leonardo and Michelangelo, and the Baroque. The connections with the art of the past reveal a different side to Futurism and encourage us to think differently about its bombastic manifestos and its relationship with art history.
This exhibition is part of a larger, AHRC-funded, research project and doctoral thesis undertaken by Kingston University student Rosalind McKever, in collaboration with the Estorick Collection, entitled Futurism and the Past: Temporalities, Avant-gardism and Tradition in Italian Art and its Histories 1909-1919. In addition to discussing formal similarities between Futurist art and that of the periods mentioned above, this research also considers works of later Italian art as a ‘past’ for Futurism. However, whilst containing formal similarities such as those highlighted in this exhibition, Futurism’s connection with the Macchiaioli, Scapigliati and Divisionist artists’ groups of the nineteenth century was also ideological, since these artists also sought to innovate and condemned the imitation of the past. Yet they also drew on that past – just as, McKever argues, the Futurists did.
The exhibition is ‘virtual’ since the works shown here could never all be physically brought together in one place – many of them being frescoes, or immovable for other reasons, such as Bernini’s sculptural complex Ecstasy of St Teresa. A virtual exhibition of Futurism is appropriate for a movement that embraced technology and claimed to want to burn down museums. Whilst this exhibition may question Futurism’s seemingly black and white relationship with the past, it does so in a medium in keeping with the movement’s belief in the importance of new technology for the dissemination of art.