London’s Estorick Collection is presenting a major new exhibition of work by Giacomo Balla (1871-1958). As one of the undisputed masters of modern Italian art, Balla was one of the five signatories of Futurism’s initial painting manifestos of 1910 and a pioneering figure of European Modernism. Giacomo Balla: Designing the Future runs at the Estorick Collection from 5 April until 25 June 2017.
The exhibition comprises 116 works loaned by the Biagiotti Cigna Collection – one of the largest collections of Balla’s works in the world. Assembled by the renowned Italian fashion designer Laura Biagiotti and her husband Gianni Cigna, the full collection of over 300 works represents the artist’s entire oeuvre. It encompasses figurative painting and drawing, as well as abstraction and applied art and many of Balla’s fashion-related designs. Examples of all these styles will be included in the exhibition, alongside actual items of Futurist furniture and clothing.
Balla’s approach to the subject was based on the photographic research of Eadweard Muybridge
This major show of striking and rarely-seen pieces has been curated by Fabio Benzi, a leading authority on the artist who has worked closely with the Fondazione Biagiotti Cigna for many years. Prof. Benzi has also collaborated with the Estorick Collection before, having curated the 2015 exhibition Fausto Pirandello 1899-1975.
Born in Turin, Balla (1871-1958) was mostly self-taught as an artist. In 1895 he moved to Rome, where he established himself as a skilled practitioner and teacher of the Divisionist technique. This style shared French Impressionism’s concern with capturing the effects of light through dashes of pure colour, but was frequently employed in a more expressive manner. It also addressed a far wider range of subject matter, incorporating Symbolist motifs as well as social and political imagery – an aspect that appealed to Balla’s socialist sympathies.
In the early years of the twentieth century, his students included Umberto Boccioni and Gino Severini. With them, he joined F. T. Marinetti’s iconoclastic Futurist movement in 1910 – a courageous move for a respectable artist. His Futurist imagery is marked by a continuing fascination with light, but his most iconic works from this period are those that attempt to convey an impression of dynamic movement, whether in the form of scurrying dachshunds or complex analytical studies of speeding vehicles.
Initially, Balla’s approach to the subject was based on the photographic research of Eadweard Muybridge and Etienne-Jules Marey, but he was the first of the early Futurist painters to develop an entirely abstract style. Balla was also the only member of this initial group of artists who continued to identify with Marinetti’s movement during the inter-war years. In 1915 he issued the manifesto ‘Futurist Reconstruction of the Universe’ with Fortunato Depero, and was influential in promoting the extension of Futurist principles to all aspects of life.
A significant amount of his own later Futurist work was carried out in the sphere of the applied arts and his painterly style also became increasingly decorative. In 1937 he distanced himself from the movement, claiming that “pure art is to be found in absolute realism”, and continued to employ a more traditional, figurative vocabulary for the remainder of his career.
Giacomo Balla: Designing the Future runs at the Estorick Collection from 5 April until 25 June 2017.