Unsupported browser

For a better experience please update your browser to its latest version.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Skilled in self-promotion

  • Comment
Futurism and Photography At the Estorick Collection, 39a Canonbury Square, London N1, with an accompanying book (Merrell, 2001. 160pp. £25)

The modest scale and quiet spaces of the Estorick Collection are once again host to the more strident claims of the Italian Futurists.

Billed as the first exhibition of Italian Futurist photography in the English-speaking world, curated by Professor Giovanni Lista, and accompanied by a suitably designed and illustrated book, it occupies three of the galleries.

The first gallery contains text and photographs illustrating two key concepts: movement caught on film, and propaganda through the Futurists' control of their self-image. Anton Giulio Bragaglia's book Fotodinamiso (1911) is claimed as innovative in capturing speed and trajectories within the photographic frame, conveniently ignoring the pioneering exposures of the Austrian scientist and philosopher Ernst Mach, or such prints as the American Thomas Eakins'History of a Jump (1884).

Nevertheless, the studies of Eakins and Muybridge, scientific in intention, carried on for some 20 years from 1872, did have a significant influence on the Futurists.

With their carefully staged group portraits, however, Marinetti and his cohorts could claim to have invented the contempobrusque definition of Fascism as 'the petite bourgeoise run amok'.

Depero takes advantage of his more youthful looks with an endless stream of self-portraits, sometimes overprinted and used as Futurist mail art; his individualism partly prompting his departure from Fascist Italy for capitalist America.Depero's emphasis on personal promotion and publicity has proved yet another questionable legacy from this period.

Any connection with the utopianism of the Russian Futurists ended when Marinetti's group joined Mussolini in his march on Rome in 1923; the second gallery includes a 50-minute video, Vita Futurista, reminding us that Mussolini appropriated elements of Futurist decor to hide his reactionary politics. Sadly, this interesting video has been crudely over-dubbed, making it difficult to understand during the spoken passages.

Not all the Italian Futurists took the same path: Paladini, represented here by a series of more Neo-Classical photocollages, took sides with the Communists, while Tato's Perfect bourgeois, an intriguing assemblage around an empty jacket on a coat hanger, seems more like a surreal satire.

The surreal combination of the mechanical and the erotic is summed up by Bruno Munari's and thus we would set about seeking an aeroplane woman (1939), towards the end of the exhibition. Half-bathing beauty, half-aeroplane, this image - coming so soon after Guernica, not to mention the merciless use of air power against Ethiopian tribespeople - now seems doubly politically incorrect. Yet wasn't that just what these otherwise pretty mediocre artists intended?

David Wild is an architect in London

  • Comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions.

Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.