Future Shock: Guggenheim’s Gorgeous Retrospective on Futurism

Championing a radical and utopian vision, the artists profiled in the Guggenheim’s new exhibit Italian Futurism, 1909–1944: Reconstructing the Universe brought the concept of “total works of art” to new heights, especially when it came to objects and interior design, according to organizer and museum senior curator Vivian Greene. From the bedroom Giacomo Balla designed for his daughter in 1914 to the art houses (Casa d'Arte) he and other designers like Fortunto Depero created across Italy, forward-thinking design was applied to every aspect of life.

With more than 360 pieces ranging from manifestos and furniture to paintings and posters, the survey showcases broad visions and stylistic evolution, from fractured spaces and machine aesthetics (arte meccanica) to the more streamlined aeropittura of the ‘30s. Pieces like a mural from a Palermo post office and a dining room set by Gerardo Dottori show how “the aesthetic was always evolving,” according to Greene.

Greene especially likes the ceramic pieces filled with small details and timely references, such as the spirals from an aeronautical-themed plate, celebrating the country’s then current obsession with flight. A sun-shaped anti-pasta set from Bruno Munari features an array of brightly illustrated exotic animals, a nod to Italy’s excitement over its then-expanding overseas colonies, and a coffee service from Balla exhibits bright colors and abstract shapes. “There’s a wonderful sense of intimacy with that piece,” Greene says. “You can really imagine yourself using them.”

Up through September 1, Italian Futurism, 1909–1944: Reconstructing the Universe at the Guggenheim showcases several pieces never seen outside of Italy.

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