Infighting spoils Futurism celebrations

Inadequate national funding and curatorial disputes threaten to undermine centenary year

By Gareth Harris and Guglielmo Gigliotti | The Art Newspaper| 4.2.09 | Issue 199

LONDON. The Italian Ministry of Culture’s plans to celebrate the centenary of Futurism (the turn-of-the-century Italian avant-garde movement that was born 100 years ago this month) have come in for heavy criticism, both from within the committee established to coordinate events, and from independent curators and commentators.

Enrico Crispolti, a member of the 15-strong National Committee to Celebrate the Centenary of Futurism, a government body established in March 2008, told our sister paper Il Giornale dell’Arte that the organisation should have been established “at least two years earlier” and questioned the size of the meagre €200,000 funding allocated by the committee towards centenary activities. “It’s a weak organisation with few resources,” he added.

Other Italian Futurism experts agreed. “I do not think [the National Committee] will serve Futurism well,” said Claudia Salaris, author of over 20 books on the subject, while Massimo Duranti, curator of the 2007 show “Piety and Pragmatism: Spiritualism in Futurist Art” at London’s Estorick Collection, said: “It’s a committee that will count for nothing.”

Carlo Fabrizio Carli, secretary of the centenary committee, admitted that “we have crumbs [of funding] and are looking for private contributions. The truth is that the committee was set up too late. We are in the planning phase when we should be making things happen.” The organisation’s website currently lists one event, an international conference at the Biblioteca Angelica, Rome, which occurred last month.

Mr Carli said, however, that he aims to expand the Futurist Archives, the first two volumes of which were compiled by scholars Maria Drudi Gambillo and Maria Teresa Fiorio (1958-62). He is seeking over €300,000 for three more volumes.

Despite the lack of substantial financial support, numerous Futurist exhibitions backed mainly by local authorities are opening across Italy this year. Further to this, Ester Coen, co-editor of the 1983 catalogue raisonné of works by the key Futurist artist Umberto Boccioni, has organised three exhibitions to be held throughout 2009, starting with “Futurism 100: Illuminations, the Meeting of Avant-Gardes in Italy, Russia and Germany” currently at the Mart centre for contemporary art in Trento (until 7 June). This show is part of the centenary celebrations, said a Mart spokeswoman, but “funding has not been confirmed”, she said. The second show, “Abstraction”, launches at Venice’s Museo Correr in June, culminating in “Simultaneity” at the Palazzo Reale in Milan in October.

Ms Coen has also curated “Futurism” at the Scuderie del Quirinale in Rome (until 24 May), which is set to be opened by the Italian president Giorgio Napolitano on 20 February, 100 years to the day since the first Futurist Manifesto was published in the French newspaper Le Figaro. The show will travel to Tate Modern in London this summer (12 June-20 September). The Art Newspaper understands that the exhibition has not received Italian government funding.

The first version of this exhibition, entitled “Futurism in Paris: an Explosive Avant-Garde”, opened at the Centre Pompidou in Paris last October. Over 200 works explored the relationship between Futurism and related trends such as Cubism, Orphism and Vorticism.

But Mr Duranti criticised the Rome exhibition, saying that “if the [curatorial] imbalance of the Pompidou show is repeated in Rome, this could be very serious, undermining over 30 years of research on the subject…Professor Coen is a Boccioni specialist but she does not aim to present Futurism in the most in-depth way, focusing instead on how the movement compares with other European avant-garde schools [this aspect is explored in the Mart’s ‘Illuminations’ show].”

Ms Salaris also questioned the focus of the 2009 exhibition agenda, saying: “I would have assembled the greatest experts on the subject and asked them to mount an event modelled on the unique and comprehensive [Futurist] exhibition held at the Palazzo Grassi [in Venice] in 1986.” That show, curated by Pontus Hultén (the first director of the Centre Pompidou), included over 1,200 works.

Ms Coen declined to comment. The exhibition at the Scuderie del Quirinale will, however, include several works not seen in Paris including the painting Dynamism of a Human Body, 1913, by Boccioni, on loan from the Civico Museo d’Arte Contemporanea in Milan.

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