The future is here

The future is here

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

Thu 29 Jan 2009 1:00 AM

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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