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Challenging views on Italian Futurism

Date: 13/12/2012

Italian Futurism has traditionally been seen as a movement opposed to the art of the past. However, this new exhibition challenges this view by comparing it with ancient art and the Old Masters. Curated by Rosalind McKever, as part of her AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award, the new online exhibition shows Futurism's relationship with the Italian pictorial tradition.

The online exhibition, the Estorick Collection's first, features some sixty works, half from the first ten years of the Futurist movement (1909-1919), including paintings from the Estorick's permanent collection, and the other half spanning the history of art from Ancient Greece to Baroque Rome.

The exhibition features five ‘galleries’ which show how the Futurist artists Umberto Boccioni, Giacomo Balla, Carlo Carrà and Gino Severini engaged with the art from different periods, from Classical art, Byzantium to the early Renaissance of Paolo Uccello and Piero della Francesca, the high Renaissance of Leonardo and Michelangelo, through to the Baroque age. These connections encourage us to think differently about Futurism's bombastic manifestos and its place in art history.

Ms McKever commented: The Futurists may have wanted to burn down museums, but I was intrigued by how often Futurist paintings and sculptures looked like the traditional Italian art we are more familiar with - I wanted to bring all these visual similarities together, and really think about how the Futurists related to Italian art history in order to show a different side to the movement

While some similarities between Futurist art and certain Italian masterpieces of the Italian tradition have previously been noted, here Futurism's interest in the past is fully reassessed for the first time, and the reasons for it clearly explained. These ranged from the desire to emulate Michelangelo and Leonardo, to an interest in representing moving forms that was shared with many of their predecessors.

A virtual exhibition of Futurism is appropriate for a movement that embraced technology and claimed to want to burn down museums. Whilst this exhibition may question Futurism's seemingly black and white relationship with the past, it does so in a medium in keeping with the movement's belief in the importance of new technology for the dissemination of art. The exhibition is 'virtual' since the works shown here could never all be physically brought together in one place - many of them being frescoes, or immovable for other reasons, such as Bernini's sculptural complex Ecstasy of St Teresa.

Ms McKever went on to say: It's fantastic to see my research presented is such a visual and accessible way! Many of the works I wanted to include could not be lent to a gallery - some cannot be moved, some of them have even been destroyed - so the virtual exhibition made it possible to present my research in a way that's fun, interactive, and open to all.

This exhibition is part of a larger AHRC-funded doctoral research project entitled Futurism and the Past: Temporalities, avant-gardism and tradition in Italian art and its histories 1909-1919. In addition to discussing the formal similarities seen here and their consequences for Futurism, this research also considers the Macchiaioli, Scapigliati and Divisionist artists’ groups as precedents for Futurism, and takes a novel approach to the Futurists' comprehension of time in order to further analyse its complex relationship with the past.

Futurism and the Past exhibition can be view at www.futurismandthepast.com on until 30 September 2013 or follow the project on twitter @FuturismPast

About the curator: Rosalind McKever has completed a doctoral thesis at Kingston University entitled Futurism and the Past: Temporalities, avant-gardism and tradition in Italian art and its histories 1909-1919. Her research has been funded by an Arts and Humanities Research Council Collaborative Doctoral Award in association with the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, and this virtual exhibition forms part of her PhD submission. She graduated in History of Art with Italian at the University of Leeds in 2005. She was formerly the Student Chair of the Association of Art Historians. She is currently pursuing further research on Italian art and the philosophy of time and history in art history.

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