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Futurism 100! - Umberto Boccioni and Luca Buvoli

Preview by Lizzie Guilfoyle

AS PART of its celebrations to mark the centenary of the Futurist movement – founded by FT Marinetti in 1909 – the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art is hosting the first exhibition in Britain for many years that focuses solely on the work of Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916).

Comprising some twenty dynamic works, Unique Forms: The Drawing and Sculpture of Umberto Boccioni will be on display from January 14 to April 19, 2009. The exhibition incorporates work from the Estorick’s permanent collection as well as loans from museums in Italy, France and the United Kingdom.

Running concurrently and complementing this exhibition will be a show focusing on the contemporary Italian artist Luca Buvoli, whose work directly engages with Futurist ideas and themes. Buvoli’s multi-media work explores the themes at the very heart of Futurism – dynamism, conflict and the changing society – as well as engaging directly with the contradictions of the movement itself. Velocity Zero is a unique installation comprising film and animation, works on paper, mural painting and sculpture.

A signatory of the 1910 Manifesto of the Futurist Painters, Boccioni was perhaps the most significant of the five artists associated with the first wave of Futurist art. Born in the south of Italy, Boccioni later settled in Rome where he experimented with the languages of Divisionism, Symbolism and Expressionism prior to his move to Milan and his association with Marinetti’s movement.

Equally articulate with verbal and visual imagery, Boccioni went on to become the foremost theorist of Futurist aesthetics, which he expounded with tremendous energy and rigour in his tract Futurist Painting and Sculpture, which was published in 1914, two years prior to his untimely death during a military exercise.

Buvoli (b. 1963) is an Italian-born contemporary artist who now lives in New York City. In recent years, he has explored the tenets of Futurism, the bombastic Italian movement that began with the publication of Marinetti’s Manifesto in the popular Parisian newspaper Le Figaro on February 20, 1909, in the light of subsequent historical events.

The relationship of Futurism with Italian Fascism, and the clash of its celebration of war with the horrors of the First World War, are of particular interest to Buvoli, who sees in them a relevance to today’s society – a gulf between theoretical ideal and reality that is still pervasive.

Italian Futurism was literary in origin and, as already mentioned, was launched by the poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti on February 20, 1909 when the Paris newspaper Le Figaro published his manifesto. Marinetti wanted to break with the oppressive weight of Italy’s cultural tradition and to develop an aesthetic based on modern life and technology, particularly speed and the machine. The movement grew to embrace many different art forms – architecture, the decorative arts, painting, performance and theatrical design, music, photography, sculpture and typography.

Marinetti’s impassioned polemic immediately attracted the support of the young Milanese painters Boccioni, Carlo Carrà and Luigi Russolo, who wanted to extend his ideas to the visual arts and, together with Gino Severini and Giacomo Balla, these artists led the dynamic first phase of Futurism.

Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, 39a Canonbury Square, London, N1