'Velocità astratta' (1913), by Giacomo Balla.
Gianni Agnelli fell madly in love with that painting he saw in the Roman exhibition dedicated to Giacomo Balla in 1972.
, painted in 1913, perfectly embodied the aesthetic and biographical imaginary of the owner of Fiat, the great Italian automobile industry and the economic engine from the country.
The problem is that Balla had reused that canvas and, years later, painted a new work on the other side:
The March on Rome
That reverse was the pictorial representation of the fascist act par excellence and Agnelli hid it for decades, even leaving written that that part was not shown.
The modesty of the businessman —only contradicted in a large exhibition at the Scuderia del Quirinal that allowed him to be seen through a set of mirrors in 2000— reflected the taboo that for years cornered a fabulous avant-garde obscured by its collusion with fascism.
Today Futurism has definitely come out of the closet, several exhibitions celebrate it and its artists are revalued in the market.
Just 150 years after the birth of the author of that double-sided canvas: the best expression of the moral dichotomy between avant-garde art and the politics of his time.
Futurism, a century at full speed
A review of the Italian avant-garde movement on the occasion of its cetenary, in 2009, by the critic and art historian Estrella de Diego.
Futurism grew, evolved, and artistically underpinned fascism during its life years.
Benito Mussolini, 'Il Duce' admired and gave carte blanche to authors whose only limit was the political line drawn by the president.
They shared warlike drives, street demonstrations, like the one in the Holy Sepulcher square in Milan where the fighting fascians were founded in 1919 or many others where politicians and artists were arrested together.
Also the interventionist demand in World War I (“the only hygiene in the world”, read the founding manifesto of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, whose death in 1944 marks the end of this avant-garde).
Some of the most conspicuous members of Futurism: from the left, Luigi Raussolo, Carlo Carrá, Filipo Tommaso Marinetti, Umberto Boccioni and Gino Severini.
Emilio Gentile, historian and one of the world's greatest authorities on that period, underlines the link between both phenomena.
“It was a fundamental component in the fascism of the origins, which was then a republican, anticlerical movement, which adopted in the political struggle the futuristic style of aggressions and clashes with the masses.
But it is true that there was a separation from 1920, with the second congress of the fascians, because fascism was oriented more to the right and towards the exaltation of the Catholic religion accepting the monarchical state ”, he points out.
There was a separation with fascism from 1920, with the Second Congress of the Fasci
Emilio Gentile, historian
The futurist manifesto, born to liberate Italy from its “oppressive culture”, had been published in its French version on the cover of
in 1909. The beauty and clarity of its postulates, the germ of other later foundational documents such as the surreal, they amazed the world.
"We want to sing the love of danger, the habit of energy and recklessness," read the first point.
"Courage, audacity and rebellion will be essential elements of our poetry," he continued.
Or also: "Our painting and art highlight aggressive movement, feverish insomnia, running, somersault, slap and punch."
Futurist manifesto on the cover of the newspaper 'Le Figaro'.
The futuristic mantra, which encompassed music, painting, architecture or even cooking, invited us to live quickly and violently. Progress does not wait for anyone. An undeniable poetic seed, too, for some aspects of fascism that hadn't even been conceived yet. “It makes no sense to dissociate both phenomena. For Futurism it was important to be a political movement to create a new Italy. But there was no imposition of artistic style by Mussolini, as did Stalin or Hitler, whom the Futurists detested. That is why the quality of his works has remained. The Futurists were enthusiastic about fascism until the late 1930s. But they were able to freely develop their artistic creativity because Mussolini was only interested in having said freedom centered on celebrating fascism:an artistic freedom, not a political one. Whoever disagreed in this regard, risked being shot. They were responsible, but art cannot be judged from a moral point of view ”, Gentile points out.
The promiscuity between the two worlds - as well as the lack of reliable documentation in many works and the propensity for falsification - gave birth to a stigma that futurism carried for years and that prevented it from enjoying the same prestige and value as the other avant-gardes of that period. . At least at the same speed. Massimo Carpi has been witness and actor of this evolution. Futurism & CO, his small but extraordinary gallery in Rome, perhaps the most important in the world in this genre, has seen in the last 25 years how Balla's works were revalued ―whose house, a few steps from this place, will open to the public soon; Furthermore, the MAXXI Museum of Contemporary Art of Rome will dedicate a great exhibition to him - but also of artists such as Mario Sironi, Fortunato Depero or Bruno Munari.
Giacomo Balla's house in Rome will soon open to the public
The Futurism & CO gallery, two blocks from the Plaza de España, is currently exhibiting the triptych of
The Three Stations
A work that Carpi bought more than two decades ago and that today has multiplied its value about 100 times.
“The first great show that put Futurism into orbit was in 1986 at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice (
Futurism & Futurismi
But it is true that later the perception changed a lot.
No avant-garde has suffered from this price increase ”, points out Carpi, owner of an extraordinary collection of Futurist works and founder of the Futur-ism association, which brings together many other collectors.
The market, encouraged by the large exhibitions that followed - Guggenheim (2014), Prada Foundation (2018), Blu Palace in Pisa (2019) - confirmed the thesis and the large auction houses experienced this change in the forefront. Renato Pennisi,
In modern and contemporary art from Christie's Italia, he points out that Futurism “was anchored in old stigmas linked to eventual ideological mixtures of the artists with a certain political world. Today it has been framed in its correct historical perspective and attracts a transversal public, very lively, curious, stimulated by the freshness of the images, by the iconoclastic power of the avant-garde, by a continuous nod to speed, modernity and modernity. future. Over time it has conquered generations of very different collectors ”. The opinion is unanimous and his counterpart at Sotheby's, Lorenzo Rebeschini, also recalls some sales of pieces for sums already in the first division, such as the
Automobile in corsa
(1913) by Balla, for 11.5 million dollars (about 9.5 million euros);
Umberto Boccioni's sculpture
Forme uniche della continuità nello spazio
(16 million dollars, about 13 million euros): or the record of Gino Severini, with his
, painted in 1915 and sold for 29 million dollars (just under 24 millions of euros).
Forme uniche della continuità nello spazio, Umberto Boccioni, exhibited in Milan.
Many of these Futurists ended up on some battlefront — Marinetti fought in the Ethiopian war and volunteered for the national side in the Spanish civil war — or suffered hardships in their day. Balla himself painted his works on paper - that's why many have been lost - or took advantage of both sides of the canvases, as happened with
. He did everything. Even little paper screens for the candles that lit up the Countess Lovatelli's parties. Balla, moreover, was always a loose verse. Other works were not even accepted for exhibitions on Futurism, such as the famous
Lampada ad arco (1909-1911)
that today owns the MoMA of New York. Elena Gigli, one of the world's leading specialists on the artist, recalls how he survived for a while: “Between 24 and 26 he made a lot of drawings that were published in the newspaper
. At that time, in order to work and live, he wanted to meet Mussolini [some years before he had been arrested along with him and Marinetti himself]. In fact, he proposed to make a 12-meter painting called
Mussolini commissioned many of those artists, some members of the so-called Second Futurism, to document his great reforms such as the construction of some new cities (Sabaudia or Latina-Littoria) built on what had been uninhabitable marshy areas in the Circeo.
One of them was Pierlugi Bossi, a geometer whom Marinetti renamed Sibò, then still a minor artist.
But even those paintings, which three or four years ago could be sold for 4,000 euros, today have multiplied their price.
"There were some stupid people who didn't think they were worth collecting," recalls Carpi.
Today there is not one of those left.
Benito Mussolini is arrested in Rome on November 18, 1919. Rue des Archives / © Rue des Archives / Tal / Cordon Press