Women Artists of Italian Futurism: Almost Lost to History

Article excerpt

Mirella Bentivoglio and Franca Zoccoli. Women Artists of Italian Futurism:Almost Lost to History. New York: Midmarch Arts Press, 1997. 208 pp., I5 color ills., 82 biw. $35 paper.

It is a real testimony to the persistence of the creative impulse that women could produce works of art in the context of the Italian Futurist movement. For if ever there was a context totally inhospitable to the participation of women, this was it. Both Futurist leaders and their manifestos-so important in signaling the theoretical engagement that has characterized twentieth-- century art and artists-were not only implicitly hostile to women but programmatically misogynistic. The Futurists' ideology of "contempt for women," "struggle against feminism," and "endorsement of violence and aggression as foremost values" is an extraordinary document of the backlash against women's sociopolitical progress of the late nineteenth/early twentieth centuries, just as the works of Pablo Picasso and Edvard Munch offer visual evidence of the same phenomenon. Not unimportantly, it was also the flipside of a posture of excessive machismo that the Futurists indelibly identified with their new "gods" of dynamism and speed, sensation and assault, technology and the machine.

How could women possibly adapt to the Futurist program, particularly as it was based fundamentally on Futurist theory? Mirella Bentivoglio and Franca Zoccoli have raised this question with their book. The authors, Italian art historians (though Bentivoglio is more significantly an artist/poet), cast their study as multidisciplinary, dividing it into two sections and including examples of "traditionally female" genres. The first section, by Bentivoglio, is primarily concerned with the phenomenon of parolibera (combined language and image, or language and dance), while Zoccoli's section is devoted more strictly to the visual arts. Both bring to light the names and work of little-known women artists, such as those of the female squadron of Italian aeropainters, and this is the book's primary contribution, along with a variety of excellent indices. Among the most interesting parts of the book are two primary documents: female Futurist manifestos by Valentine de Saint-Point, French by birth, Italian by heritage, who, in addition to painting and writing, was the lover of Futurist leader E. F. T. Marinetti and, more important, a veritable revolutionary in dance.

However, this most provocative question-how could women possibly adapt to the Futurist program?-remains unanswered and unexplored. In fact, early, pre-World War I Futurism, known as the first and most significant wave of the movement, was closed tight to women. With the fascinating exception of Saint-- Point, virtually all of the artists and their works treated here belong to the second, or Fascist, wave. …