The closer we get to that magic moment when the digital clock/calendars suddenly roll over from 11:59:59 p.m. December 31, 1999, to 12:00:00 a.m. January 1, 2000, (or a year later 2001, if you want to be chronologically picky), the more we begin to think about "The Future." It's only about six months away, but still the twenty-first century seems more like the setting for a science-fiction novel than NEXT YEAR. Maybe we should call such thoughts "Futurism?" Well, too bad, we'd be a little late--like by almost a CENTURY? The term has be co-opted back in 1909 by a small group of fanatical Italian artists, Umberto Boccioni, Giacomo Balla, Carlo Carra, Luigi Russolo and Gino Severini. The vehicle for their movement was the "Futurist Manifesto," written by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, and the future they were contemplating is NOW.
Futurism was first a literary movement, and judging by the number of essays, manifestos, articles, and other assorted "papers" establishing its premise, it remained fairly true to its birthright. It espoused disestablishmentarianism (always wanted to use that word in a sentence.) It demanded artists jettison the old, embrace wholeheartedly the new science and technology, "kill all the critics," and not only PAINT like rebels but LIVE that way too. In its artistic incarnation, it was bent on portraying every aspect of a given subject and most pointedly that object's existence in TIME. In effect, the painting movement became enamored with painting movement. Balla's "Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash," painted in 1912, is usually held up as the trademark of the group's efforts along this line.
Actually, however, Umberto Boccioni's "Unique Forms of Continuity of Space," from 1913, is a much better icon for what Futurism was all about. Moreover, it's not a painting at all, but a massive, striding, bronze sculpture. The element of movement is there to be sure, but there is so much more, an analysis of form, of structure, Cubism--a kind of sculptural "Nude Descending a Staircase" which seems to have been it's inspiration. Boccioni's painting, even more so than Balla's, dipped deeply into both the hopes and fears the future might hold. His 1910-11 painting, "The City Rises" is a hellish, red inferno of man's struggle to cope with and control the rising tide of industrialization he saw in Italian cities during the first decade of OUR century. Beyond that, he also looked inwardly, at the modern man's psyche in his "State of Mind" triptych--"The Farewells," "Those who Go," and "Those who Stay Behind." Unlike the majority of the Futurists who uncritically embraced the future, Boccioni saw too the turmoil brought on by rapid technological change in man's existence. As it turned out, in the short term at least, it was HIS vision of the future that proved to be the most knowing.