By Owen Hatherley in Britain:
Socialists have often felt rather uncomfortable with Futurism.
This Italian art movement, founded in 1909, sang the praises of new technology, aeroplanes and the mass media – but it also exalted war and colonialism.
A Russian group of Futurist artists was formed around 1910.
The Russian Futurists had much in common with the Italians – they too romanticised technology.
But there were differences from the start.
Against the realist pretensions of bourgeois art, the Russians saw the future in schematic, distorted figures drawn by anonymous peasant artists.
It’s also notable, considering Marinetti’s inclusion of “scorn for woman” in his Futurist Manifesto, that nearly half the Russian Futurists were female – Varvara Stepanova, Olga Rozanova, Lyubov Popova and Natalia Goncharova being the most prominent.
Another difference is the harsh, clear lines that creep into the Russian images from around 1913 onwards.
The “metallisation of the human body” promised by the Italian Futurists saw its fulfilment more in Malevich’s robotic figures than in the soft pastel blur of Italian painters such as Gino Severini.
Popova’s painting Portrait (1915), with the word “futurismo” emblazoned across it, shows the mid-point between the two styles.
The Futurist theme of a collision between man and machine took on a very different significance after 1914.
Marinetti’s Futurist group volunteered for the First World War.
Despite the death of their great sculptor Umberto Boccioni, they remained militaristic even after the war had ended.
Initially Malevich and Mayakovsky (who had joined the Bolsheviks in 1908, but then drifted away from politics) designed propaganda posters with folksy representations of bayoneted Germans.
Their enthusiasm for war didn’t last long.
By 1915 Mayakovsky was roaring out anti-war poems like “You!”.
The war’s presence in Russian Futurist art also changed dramatically. Rozanova’s Universal War series used abstract shapes to create dehumanised depictions of the slaughter.
By 1915, Malevich had effaced human figures altogether and embraced abstraction. Meanwhile Vladimir Tatlin started using actual industrial materials in his exhibits.
Then came the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. Mayakovsky wrote at the time, “October. To accept or not to accept?
For me, as for the other Moscow Futurists, this question never arose. It is my revolution.”
See also here.
Jewish artists and the Russian revolution: here.
Radical Russia: Art, Culture and Revolution. How the Bolshevik Revolution saved avant-garde art: here.
- Women’s Power: Sisters of the Revolution, Russia 1907-1934 @ The Groninger Museum (irenebrination.typepad.com)
- Century of Sound: 100 Years After Russolo’s “The Art of Noises” (createdigitalmusic.com)
- Moscow Metro reveals avant-garde poetry of Vladimir Mayakovsky (rbth.ru)
- Mayakovsky on the metro: all aboard the poetry train (indrus.in)