Futurism at Tate Modern

I went to take a look at the Futurism exhibition at Tate Modern yesterday, via a visit to Marks and Spencer in Oxford Street to buy a few new shirts.

This picture is of a shop display I found on my way to the tills in M & S. If it was in Tate Modern it would be a masterpiece of existential dislocation.

Existential dislocation in a chain store

Existential dislocation in a chain store

As you can probably tell, I’m not an unalloyed fan of modern art. Nor am I a total fan of more classical forms of art.

Art is like music – if it provokes a reaction in me I can appreciate it, whatever the form; I can also appreciate the craft – as someone who draws and paints a bit I admire works that are well composed and well executed. But the reaction must come first.

I’m not one of those people who wander round galleries thinking everything has significance just because it is hanging on a big wall, or it’s by somebody famous. It needs to work harder on me than that, and sometimes I come away from galleries feeling disappointed that I’ve walked through rooms filled with unpersuasive canvases without seeing anything I could connect with.

But it’s not always the case – I enjoyed a visit to the Ludwig Museum in Cologne recently where I saw inspiring works by the likes of Warhol, Lichtenstein and Picasso. 

And yesterday I enjoyed the exhibition at Tate Modern, which includes work by Giacomo Balla, Umberto Boccioni and Gino Severini, as well as British artists like Wyndham Lewis and C R W Nevinson. The exhibition also shows how Futurist painters also influenced other movements briefly, such as Picasso or the Vorticists in Britain. 

I read excerpts from the Futurist manifesto of 1909, written by Marinetti, which underlines how artists then, as now, felt they had to be ludicrously provocative to get noticed. How many generations of artists have there been who have railed against the art establishment, only to drop the rebel routine when the niche is carved and they are recognised and rewarded as a talent? That isn’t a reflection on artists alone – how many generations of politicians have done something similar?

There were some stupid propositions in Marinetti’s manifesto and a splurge of other iterations of the Futurist ideals as written by others. War is like sex, they apparently believed.

Well, no. War is only like sex if you prefer your sex ghastly, inhuman and deadly. What a loathsome comparison. Marinetti eventually came to glorify the mechanised hell of war, and man’s aggression as embodied by machinery is reflected in much Futurist art.

It’s small wonder that the Vorticists turned away from ‘Marinettism’ and C R W Nevinson, who had seen the bloody reality of war for himself as an ambulance driver, rejected Futurism outright. 

That said, there is much in the exhibition to catch the eye and mind. For all their attention-seeking, the Futurists’ fascination with movement and capturing ‘simultaneity’ – snatches of image from a scene happening simultaneously all on one canvas or in one sculpture – remain fascinating.


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