Magazine article The Spectator

Frenetic Attack

Magazine article The Spectator

Frenetic Attack

Article excerpt


Tate Modern, until 20 September

The centenary of Marinetti's 'First Manifesto of Futurism' is a wonderful excuse, if excuse be needed, for a celebration and perhaps re-assessment of a movement that attacked the past in the name of all that was modern. Today, Futurists would be execrating any movement as old and as passe as themselves, but we may look more calmly at their frenetic attempts to capture in paint and sculpture the dynamism of modern life. The large show at the Tate aims to do two things: to gather together as many as possible of the works that were shown in the first Futurist exhibition in London, at the Sackville Gallery in 1912, and to demonstrate how Futurism related to (and influenced) the other radical art movements of the time. Thus this is not exclusively a Futurist show, but dwells also upon Cubism, Simultanism, Orphism, Rayonism and Vorticism. The result is a show for once without a dominating linear development. The installation reflects the concurrence and overlapping in a richly layered simultaneous attack. It effectively conveys something of the excitement and complexity of the period.

The first room is gloriously minimal, containing only four paintings and Boccioni's famous sculpture about movement, 'Unique Forms of Continuity in Space'. Carlo Carra's 'Swimmers' is hung opposite a very beautiful Giacomo Balla painting in dabs of green, blue, red and yellow, like large-scale pointillism - 'Girl Running on a Balcony'.

Then there's the surprising inclusion of Braque's 'Large Nude', together with the most abstract image, Boccioni's 'Dynamism of a Human Body'. Here are the chief characteristics of Futurism: speed, bold colour, fractured composition, a certain ill-disciplined frenzy. Braque's Cubism is serenely classical by comparison. Room 2 takes us into a favourite Futurist subject, The Street.

I liked several things here, such as Carra's 'Jolts of a Cab' (reminiscent of a too-swift post-party taxi journey) and 'Leaving the Theatre', but Boccioni's grotesque symbolist 'Modern Idol' nearby has always struck me as hideous.

From here, there is a choice of path: onward into Cubism, or diverging into Futurist heartlands. The Cubist route is most rewarding, taking you past that marvellous facetted plaster head by Picasso, into a room with a couple of Duchamp's paintings and one of his brother's excellent sculptures ('The Large Horse' by Raymond Duchamp-Villon). …

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