Futurism and the past : temporalities, avant-gardism and tradition in Italian art and its histories 1909-1919

McKever, Rosalind (2012) Futurism and the past : temporalities, avant-gardism and tradition in Italian art and its histories 1909-1919. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


This thesis re-evaluates Italian Futurist art's relationship with the past, focusing on the years 1909-1919. This aspect of the movement is fundamental to its complex identity, yet has not received prolonged scholarly attention. In order to reconsider Futurism's temporality this thesis focuses on the fine art practice and theoretical writings of Giacomo Balla, Umberto Boccioni, Carlo Carra, Luigi Russolo and Gino Severini, and also the writings on the movement's leader F.T. Marinetti, plus the Florentine Futurists Giovanni Papini and Ardengo Soffici. The historiography of Futurism, which both produces the reductive antipassatista model of the movement and highlights the presence of formal similarities between the Italian artistic tradition and Futurism, is also interrogated. The first part of this thesis argues that the Futurist temporality is more nuanced than the widely accepted model of adoration of the future and repudiation of the past, and that it is related to the conflicting notions of time present in the decade in question. Using the Futurists' concept of time to analyse their relationships with the past, present and future, it argues that the present is the most important temporal mode for Futurism, but that the past and future are part of this present. This thesis approaches Futurism's relationship with Italy's artistic past in tandem with its interrogation of its temporality. This requires a consideration of the temporality of art history, the temporal orientation of avant-gardism and the connotations of tradition and appropriation in art historical practice in order to produce a spiralling art historical model in which returns to the past can be forms of progress. In the second part of this thesis, these possible appropriations of the Italian artistic tradition from Magna Graecia to Giovanni Battista Tiepolo are surveyed, using the reception of earlier art historical periods in early twentieth century Italy to consider how and why the Futurists could have appropriated them. The Futurists' continuation of the recent past of Italian and French art from Italian unification up to the launch of Futurism is also addressed, noting the anti passatismo of these precedents to show that the Futurist relationship with the past, as reconstructed in this thesis, was not sui generis. The aim of this thesis is to bring together Futurism's rhetoric about the past, understanding of time, and relationship with art history in order to offer a more nuanced understanding of the movement's antipassatismo.

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