The future is here

Walking in the footsteps of the Florentine Futurists

Trevor Gori
January 29, 2009

On February 20, 1909, French paper Le Figaro published a manifesto that gave voice to the Italian avant-garde movement called Futurism. The movement's founder, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, proclaimed war on the past in the name of the future, for ‘the love of danger, the habit of energy and rashness' and the almighty machine. ‘It is in Italy that we are issuing this manifesto of ruinous and incendiary violence, by which we today are founding Futurism, because we want to deliver Italy from its gangrene of professors, archaeologists, tourist guides and antiquaries.'


One century later, Europe is celebrating the birth of Futurism. Florence is in the foreground of this celebration because Marinetti targeted the city in particular when he declared his war on museums: ‘We want to demolish museums and libraries, fight morality, feminism and all opportunist and utilitarian cowardice,' he wrote. Marinetti also found a home in Florence among a group of intellectuals who joined the movement in 1913.


If you want to walk in the footsteps of the Florentine Futurists, start at the Giubbe Rosse, a café in Piazza della Repubblica, where the Futurists used to meet. It was here that their experimental magazine, Lacerba, was established and discussed. Today, the café and its atmosphere are a testament to this past. As an employee of the restaurant put it, ‘They call this the "Futurism House" because those in the movement used to come here to take some drink and speak about art.' Inside the cafè, one is struck by the extensive collection that allows a play of the past with ‘future.' A newspaper clipping of the Futurist journal, L'Italia Futurista, from 25 July, 1916, hangs on the wall behind the bar. A huge poster reads, ‘Marciare, non marcire' (‘March, don't go rotten'), a slogan the movement adopted (it is reproduced on postcards the café displays). From the main beam in the center of the room are black-and-white photographs of the leaders of the movement.


Marinetti stands out in these pictures, and his image is a presence in the café.


Across the piazza is the Caffé Concerto Paszkowski, the ‘literary bar' that gave the title to a poem by the Futurist poet and painter Ardengo Soffici. He called it "caffè di poeti e di signori e signore / molto usuali" (‘a café of poets and of very ordinary ladies and gentlemen'). Nearby, the elegant Helvetia & Bristol Hotel hosted Marinetti and important Futurist painters including Umberto Boccioni, Giacomo Balla and Carlo Carrà when they came to Florence from Milan. A few steps away, in the basement of Palazzo Antinori, is the restaurant Buca Lapi, the oldest ‘buca' in town, the place where the members of the rising used to go for their meals.


On December 12, 1913, at Teatro Verdi (via Ghibellina), where the Futurists would stage events, a particularly memorable serata futurista took place. As usual, the Futurists stood on the stage, reading manifestos and poems, performing, and generally provoking the crowd. The crowd responded, throwing food at them and yelling. Marinetti rejoiced in the riot, despite having been hit in the eye with a potato. He exclaimed, ‘It is sure that for more than fifty years we have never seen so much overflowing of exuberance by the youth in these old buildings of the past.' By forcing the audience to feel the emotions of the here-and-now, the Futurists sought to wake up those living in a city famous for its past.


Saletta Gonnelli, located in via Ricasoli, 6r, was the site of the famous Futurist art exhibition that opened on November 30, 1913. This was the first time that many of the major Futurist works, those of Boccioni among them, were exhibited in Florence. Around the corner, via Ricasoli is rich with Futurism memories: number 8 was the site of Vallecchi Editore, the celebrated publisher of the Futurists and the Lacerba. A climb (or ride on Ataf  bus 12 or 13) to Piazza Michelangelo will allow for a close-up look at the restaurant La Loggia, chosen by Marinetti in the summer of 1916 for a scene in the now hard-to-find film Vita Futurista. In the scene, a young Futurist confronts an older gentleman on issues of culture, a symbolic, ‘conversation' between an old, archaic Florence and the modernity embraced by Marinetti and his comrades.


In tracing the steps and sites of the Futurists in Florence, it is important to note that the then avant-garde is not just another part of the city's past. Futurism sparked other art movements all over Europe, including Surrealism, Art Deco, and Dada. Marinetti's brainchild is yet part of the modern soul of the old-world capitol of the Renaissance.



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