One of the most unsettling images in the enormous exhibition of futurist art recently in Venice is Giacomo Balla's The Madwoman (1905). The woman stands full length, framed by a doorway, her hair mussed and gnarled. The yellow springtime light shatters on the broad field behind her. Her body is a coil of wrecked nerves, her long form one stretched contortion, from her flyaway curls to the tensed flex of her foot. She waves a finger in front of her face, at the world outside her disordered mind, in a gesture of negation or chastisement, as if to scold or correct us, while her other arm hangs stiffly at her side, hand cocked at an odd angle. In its setting the exhibition Futurism and Futurisms contains hundreds of paintings, drawings, sculptures, photographs, books, documents, and assorted paraphernalia from the futurist movements in several countries Balla's picture has two quite different effects. Placed in the rooms designated "Toward Futurism," it helps to establish the formal matrix out of which the language of futurist art was to evolve: the detonated coloring of Impressionism, the phosphorescences of Pointillism, and the tension between documentary fidelity to subject and irresolutely colored images characteristic of the Macchiaioli in the second half of the nineteenth century. But the young woman's look of bewildered chastisement also seems directed at the other pieces in the show, as if she were registering real dismay at the carefully scripted derangements soon to be staged by F. T. Marinetti and the Futurists as they assaulted the complacent rationalisms of the past.
Balla was, after Umberto Boccioni, the most gifted among the Italian futurist artists. Like other painters early in the century, he wanted to record on canvas the new industrial expansion that was carving out larger pieces of the Old World's landscape and changing the sense of time experienced by workers. The two panels of Balla's A Worker's Day (1904) show laborers first on a building site then later returning home on a lamplit street at dusk. Each scene includes a house under construction, where the sign of the new age is the gridwork of wood-rail scaffolding climbing high up the sides of buildings. By 1912, however, committed to a futurist program, Balla, as if by sheer willful self-conversion, ceased creating such moody realistic canvases and began to make a different sort of art. About halfway through the Venice show, one enters a room I think of as "Balla's Speed Shop." On the walls are the famous series of paintings whose titles are miniature manifestos: Speeding Car, Abstract Speed, Dynamic Expansion and Speed . The dominant forms are repetitive quarter-moons, scythes, swallowtails, nautilus whorls, all abstract figures sliced across by triangulated planes with other echoing forms revolving and coiling inside. The pictures are from 1913, when Balla was seeking to accommodate the form of motion that was proliferating with spectacular quickness in Western industrial societies the wheel, in all its manifestations: cars, trucks, trains; pulleys, casters, bearings; the figure traced by airplane propellers and locomotive cranks. Balla was the purest anatomist of velocity among the Futurists, analytical, precise, and objective. Some of his early work prepared him for this. The closed doors in his picture Bankruptcy (1902) are defaced with scribbled spirals and curves, prefiguring the general futurist position that the past as a fund of wisdom and static forms was bankrupt, that the artist's only workshop and subject would be the present rocketing into the future. By the late 1930s, however, after a long association with Futurism (he signed two important early manifestos in 1910) Balla came out the other end, declaring that "pure art is to be found in absolute realism, without which one falls into decorative ornamental forms." The curse of the merely decorative was one that Futurism could never escape.
If The Madwoman was placed for its editorial effect, that would be in keeping with the self-conscious assertiveness of the entire exhibit, which fills the spacious three stories of the eighteenth-century Palazzo Grassi. The "Toward Futurism" section on the ground floor displays items by Edvard Munch, Picasso, Seurat, the LumiÃ¨re brothers, Georges MÃ©liÃ¨s, and others who may have anticipated the various strains in futurist art. Viewers have to infer this, however, and construct their own historical argument, since the catalogue limits its commentary to a brief introduction and a "Dictionary of Futurism." Above the dazzling marble foyer hang a monoplane and single-engine fighter, like profane versions of the Holy Spirit blessing the show and lending it the power of secular evangelism. Off the main foyer are two of the choicest objects in the show, an early model Fiat touring car with luxuriantly funereal black leather seats and a Bugatti one-seater that looks more like a tin country mousetrap than a newfangled speed machine. Like Futurism, the exhibit is so full of its own energetic theatricality that it cannot quite control either its range of reference, which becomes haphazard, or its ironic suggestiveness, which becomes confused and opaque. It is carefully programmed to allow for a generosity of reference and accommodation, to document what the curators obviously believe to be the omnipresent durable effects of Futurism. But like the movement itself, the show's infatuation with its own enthusiasm resolves into a recognizable modernist tedium.
The entire second floor is given over to Italian Futurism. While artists like Otto Dix, Mikhail Larionov, Duchamp, Gaudier-Brzeska, and Jacob Epstein might all be tagged as Futurists at some point in their careers, the most influential documents and "events" were produced by Marinetti, and none of those other artists can be treated so exclusively in futurist terms as can Boccioni, CarrÃ , Balla, and Gino Severini. Venice is the ideally ironic setting for the show. In their 1910 manifesto "Against PassÃ©ist Venice," the Futurists called Venice the "great sewer of traditionalism," which ought to be purged of all its rotting leftover antiquities and turned into a military, industrial power. They wanted to burn the gondolas ("rocking chairs for idiots") and wrench Venice into a new age: "Let the reign of the divine Electric Light come at last, to free Venice from her venal hotel-room moonlight." The town was already a museum in Marinetti's time, the kind of historical "jewel" loathed by the Futurists because it represented the crippling presence of the past, old achievements enshrined (like Roman Catholicism) to oppress the contemporary imagination. The mastering idea behind Marinetti's pronouncements was that passatismo must be attacked and routed wherever it appeared, that the new century was so utterly new that art could no longer look presumptuously toward memory as a restorative innovative power, that artists had to violently revolutionize their methods, choose new subjects, forge a new form language, if they were to redeem themselves from the wasteful obedience to, and worship of, past forms. All the old poeticisms naturally came under attack. The most abrasive and rudely endearing futurist manifesto is entitled "Let's Kill Moonlight." In place of the old cautious deliberations, the infinite refinements of sentiment, the laboriously arrived-at nuances of representational realism, would come heroical speed, dinamismo, and quickened bright metallic facts. The failure of at least part of the futurist program is bitterly apparent. Venice may be, for many, an island of eternally serene moonlight, but she is, first and always, Queen of Irony: cunning, indifferent, secretive, and greedy. She knows that her gondolas, most of them, are rocking chairs for idiots, but, unlike the Futurists, she does not care. More a museum than ever before and therefore more protective of her secret life, Venice has now co-opted her most virulent critics and is charging admission to view them.
A new form of attention was, at any rate, necessary. The mechanical means of producing images of reality (and of reproducing copies of images of reality) induced a new self-consciousness of the moment's composition in time. In his Animal Locomotion series of 1887, excerpts of which are in the "Toward Futurism" section, Eadweard Muybridge used the photographic image to analyze motion by recording its serial instants. One of the images on display is of a nude woman descending steps. When, much later, the coppery turbine vanes of Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 (1912) enact one futurist obsession that of registering the planes through which movement passes the historical arc is neatly closed. Artists therefore needed to review and revise their awareness of the process of motion and of civilization's new life-altering products. Marinetti poet, prose writer, and man of independent means was the most tireless and best-organized advocate of accommodation. To reach the largest audience as quickly as possible, he spread the call by publishing his manifestos in newspapers. He was a resourceful promoter whose tone was unapologetically peevish, insulting, and belligerently ecstatic. His position as the most conspicuous representative of Italian Futurism was adversarial, subversive, and intolerantly democratic. The events of the 12920s and 1930s, however, were such that what began as an earnest, and in many respects necessary, program for global, pan-cultural change became nearly indistinguishable from totalitarian ideology. The rigor of the Futurists' denunciations and their energetic, petulant enthusiasm for the new gave much of their work a strange double valence, at once blissfully liberating and punishingly authoritarian.
The double valence is shockingly apparent in the first image one confronts at the top of the staircase. Boccioni's 1913 statue Unique Form of Continuity in Space is probably the best-known futurist icon. We recognize at once the formal principles he explored so brilliantly in his futurist years, from 1910 to his early death in 1916. The tall, striding figure, with its monumental streaking-bronze effect in space, realizes Boccioni's desire to obtain what he called a "simultaneity" of duration and stasis, "a synthesis between what is remembered and what is seen." From his teacher Balla he had learned the new stress on dynamism, but against the more schematic representation of velocity in Balla's work Boccioni wanted time's quick stream seen and felt in the rhythm of its flowing. The statue is a stunning articulation of matter in motion. Installed in its niche, however, surrounded by tall black enamel panels, that human image with its abstract title is also the most powerful martial icon of the century. Up from the bronze platform, out of the thick bronze pedestals, toils a monstrously sinewy, invulnerable man-machine, a pure urgency of will untrammeled by meditative delay. Small wings, reminiscent of Balla's swallow forms, flare from the heels and calves like instruments of flight, but also like spurs, or scythes the entire lower body looks like an unstoppable harvesting machine. The torso, all curvilinear flanks and planes, expresses at once the continuities of the human form moving through space and the armoring of that form in thick bronze folds that overlap like wings. In "Man Multiplied and the Reign of Machinery," Marinetti announced: "We believe in the possibility of an incalculable number of human transformations, and we declare without a smile that wings slumber within the flesh of man. When man is able to externalize his will so that it extends beyond him like an enormous arm, dream and desire, which today are vain words, will reign supreme in vanquished space and time." The Futurists believed that units of force composed the essence of objects and that these could be externalized in "force lines," the tensed vectors and radiating blades and gills so evident in their images. The force lines in Boccioni's statue describe, and celebrate, the exercise of Marinetti's transformational will.
Nonetheless, Boccioni was, for a while at least, something more than an exemplar or implementer of futurist ideas. This much is obvious from the selection of his pre-futurist work in a concurrent show, Boccioni in Venice, at the Chiesa di San Stae. The early portraits are particularly interesting because they dramatize a tense truce between the flesh of the subject and the thing world surrounding it. The crosshatched inner structure they both share, especially evident in the pastels, is always faintly visible as the common ground of reality. The flesh has to resist the necessity of surrounding matter. A portrait of his mother from 1906, in grays and half-whites, shows the subject's inertia flustered by the flyaway strands of gray hair that pick up the oscillating rhythms of the background. Although the sitter is heavily there, dynamism is yet tightly coiled within her form. Even this early in his career, Boccioni is painting a study in movement, but the dynamism waits to be set free from the figurative conventions of portraiture. In another La madre, from 1907, the action of the thing world is more fused to the figure; both are heavily scored by that under-form, that hatchwork (which in Boccioni's early house-under-construction scenes becomes fully externalized in the scaffoldings). The background in the 1907 portrait is now more tightly knit the colors are becalmed blacks, grays, and smoky whites to the life of the flesh. Again, wisps of hair float behind the mother's head. In The Sick Mother of 1908 the subject reclines on snowy linen streaked with green highlights, as if the quickened vegetable world were ceding to the candor of mortality. Only the smudged gray and powdery orange tints of the mother's face preserve her from being taken over by the geological scorings of the background. These early canvases are important, I think, because even while working within the conventions of portraiture, with all its tremendous stillness, Boccioni is developing a vision of the action of matter which will lead him quite naturally toward the extreme kineticism of Futurism.
Boccioni held certain futurist convictions as early as 1907, three years before he met Marinetti, when he wrote in a letter that Italians were living in un sogno storico, a reverie of history that induced torpor and useless nostalgia. With his turn away from meditative portraiture, away from the endless and enervating inflections of historical reflectiveness, came an apposite change in his work. Around 1910, the year of his first one-person show at Ca' Pesaro in Venice (introduced by Marinetti), Boccioni began to change his style of drawing. He declared in 1910 that The City Rises, a large canvas completed that year, was "a transitional work and, I think, the last" (un lavoro di trasizione e credo degli ultimi ). It was indeed among the last, for in its surging tidal forms of men and beasts heaving a city into existence, the force holding the elements together is centripetal. When Boccioni became a Futurist, he said that "the figure has to become the center from which plastic directions depart into space." The new force is centrifugal: the stress lines of matter radiate from the figure, they do not converge upon it. In 1912 he painted two more portraits of his mother, though now she is called Horizontal Construction and Materia . The finely tissued webwork of the early portraits has been transformed into steely, sheeted intersecting facets and angles. Boccioni's subject is no longer the flesh struggling in an object world but rather the action of an energy in the life of forms.
Much of what he and other futurist painters had to say about their practice focused on draftsmanship. In The Salon of 1846 Baudelaire wrote that "pure draftsmen (as opposed to colorists) are naturalists, endowed with one excellent sense; but their drawing is a rationalist enterprise, whereas that of the colorists is a matter of feeling, an almost unconscious process." Boccioni was, in Baudelaire's terms, a pure draftsman. And the great strength of futurist art generally, from the antic angular caricatures of Fortunato Depero to the moody social documentary of CarrÃ , is its draftsmanship. A colorist depends too much on precisely the sort of irrational feeling and instinct for movement that artists with a program need to avoid, for fear of sabotaging the program. Moreover, the traditions of the great colorists the Macchiaioli had been the most recent in Italy, though their influence on the Futurists goes entirely unremarked in the catalogue run counter to the antisentimental purpose of the Futurists. At its most debased, coloring for the Futurists was merely a sort of sensational violence exercised upon inventive draftsmanship.
The futurist program went beyond art. It meant to change people's hearts and minds. "Anarchists are satisfied to assault the political, judicial, and economic branches of the social tree," Marinetti declared, "whereas we want much more. . . . We want to tear up and burn that tree's deepest roots." Those roots were nourished by "cowardly quietism, love of the old and ancient, of what's sick and corrupt, the horror of the new, contempt for youth, the veneration of time, of the accumulated years, of the dead and the dying." Marinetti singles out his targets, but each one represents a general condition; taken all together they are so manifold that the futurist attack must be waged on a broad global front. Consequently, most of the manifesto literature produced by the movement has both a particularized aphoristic force (the force of tables of law) and the intimidating hysteria of wild machine-gun bursts. The exhibition catalogue, in keeping with the futurist spirit, suffers from the same overparticularized but blurred purpose. Its encyclopedic format offers a blizzard of facts, obscuring long, clear views. Since it is crucial to the show's public success that Futurism be shown to be the most influential and relevant "ism" of the early century, all sorts of names are enlisted under its banner. Nietzsche, Georges Sorel, Munch, Apollinaire, John Marin, Ungaretti, Charles Demuth, Dino Campana all become, in the catalogue's retelling, near or distant figures in the futurist story. What neither the show nor the catalogue offers is lucid historical analysis (and because of the hundreds of documents on display, the exhibition had a real opportunity to do so) or a coherent argument. The curators offer instead more of what the Futurists themselves provided in abundance self-glorifying publicity.
The most prickly issue, and the one most thoroughly botched in the catalogue, is the relationship between Futurism and fascism.An essay by Antonello Trombadori in a recent special number of Nuovi argomenti argues that when Marinetti and the members of the Futurist Political Party broke from fascism in 1920, after their initial participation in the Fasci di combattimento, it was not because they felt that fascism had turned too sharply to the right, but because they themselves held to an "ultrafascism." Official fascism did not go far enough. The futurist position was even more nationalistic, antimonarchical, and anticlerical than the fascist line. In Trombadori's analysis, the Futurists at that time were more single-mindedly intolerant than the fascists of any divergence from their program to level the past and dissolve the fogs of "historical consciousness." Trombadori's argument is directed against those apologists who present the Futurists as leftist dissenters and early opponents of the regime. In 1923, at any rate, Marinetti publicly realigned himself with fascism, in 1929 was elected to the Academy of Italy, and as late as 1935 was a vocal advocate of a fascist future.
In the catalogue entry "Ideology," Renzo de Felice refuses to draw any equation between Futurism and fascism, insisting that Futurism had no ideology, only "artistic attitudes" and strategies: "On the whole Futurism had no ideology, nor did it want one. If to some extent it is possible to construct an ideology after the fact, this assumes contradictory, changing forms which vary according to the groups composing the movement, so it cannot be forced into the narrow limits of an abstract lowest common denominator." To explain Marinetti's announcements in the 1909 manifesto, "We will glorify war the world's only hygiene militarism, patriotism, the destructive gestures of freedom bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for, and contempt for women," de Felice concocts the proposition that "war" be taken metaphorically, "as fullness of life and even as rejoicing, essentially as an individual and artistic fact, which became collective for the Italians in 1911 and more particularly in 1915-18 because it took on the value of a 'revelation' of the 'true Italian powers,' that is, of the triumph of 'futurism' over 'passatismo .'" Those quotation marks are little nooses choking off the oxygen that might clarify de Felice's ideas. The hygienic purpose of war, as he reconstructs it, is to restore life festively individually and socially. But not "real" war. Marinetti could not possibly have meant real war, since that is a tragic business, and Marinetti did not believe in tragedy. (He looted Nietzsche's vocabulary of will and power but dismissed Nietzsche as a retrograde classicist who believed in tragedy.) What de Felice refuses to acknowledge is the strain of giddy nihilism in futurist thinking.
The torturous ambivalence of de Felice's explanation imitates what I think was Marinetti's own fiery confusion. He wanted two things at once: the artist as holy noisemaker, announcing and creating the future, answerable only to his responsibilities as a Futurist, not obliged by norms that apply to established social and political orders; but also the artist as inciter, as provocateur promulgating the new program to the masses, shaping their lives with his vision and his products (the Futurists made clothing and furniture, designed advertising campaigns for Campari, wrote a cookbook, etc.). The artist would therefore have actual power over the life of the crowd, but because of his holy noisemaker status he was also morally autonomous. The artist was thus a pure performer, intent on changing the lives of his audience but feeling no sense of consequence for that power. Many of Marinetti's pronouncements are performances in that sense; his ideas are italicized by their manner of presentation, and their exhilarating inconsistencies become grotesque but unignorable. In the first famous manifesto published in Le Figaro on February 20, 1909, he announced: "Except in struggle, there is no more beauty. No work without an aggressive character can be a masterpiece. Poetry must be conceived as a violent attack on the unknown forces, to induce them to prostrate themselves before man." That beauty results from strife is, though Marinetti pretends not to know it, a romantic article of faith. That poetry is above all an "attack," offensive and assaultive, rather than a receiving or contemplative activity, is a more stringent (and attention-getting) assertion. To believe that poetry is essentially imperialistic, conquistadorial, and that its purpose is to subdue and subjugate those coyly unidentified "unknown forces," is to model the purpose of poetry so closely on the exercise of political force that it may more readily and "innocently" become an instrument of state power, of state "knowledge," of ideology. The tone here and in other futurist documents (even in Valentine de Saint-Pont's Manifesto of the Futurist Woman, written in 1912 to oppose what Germano Celant calls Marinetti's masculine hysteria) is unremittingly aggressive and proclamatory. Even if we allow for Marinetti's occasionally sly bad-boy humor, the martial tone dominates: "Art, in fact, can be nothing but violence, cruelty, and injustice." The anti-sentimental impulse in Futurism became obsessional avoidance, and its emotional range was narrowed accordingly. The sort of world the Futurists called for was an emotionally impoverished and overlegislated one. They were not, all things considered, masters of the finer tones, not even Boccioni, whose paintings many years later would be dismissed by another poet of violence, Francis Bacon, as "hideous and vulgar." As ideology and practice, Futurism was in too violent a hurry to bother with nuance and discrimination.
The Futurists were driven by the need to pursue what Marinetti called the implications of new facts, which had to be absorbed and transformed by the artists. In their early paintings of workers and houses under construction, Boccioni and Balla were already coping with the implications of new facts. But later futurist pronouncements, along with the stabbing, overexcited vitalism of their canvases, suggest an even deeper anxiety: that the artist was being made more and more marginal by the new facts and by the velocity with which those facts came and went (or reproduced themselves). The artist had not only to keep pace but also to define (or improvise) his own position along the way. The futurist strategy was to adopt the manners of competing technologies to be quick, aggressive, efficient, explicitly manipulative, unsentimental, and intrusive. Here, too, their methods were equivocal, insofar as they were adversarial in contesting the new "marginalization" of the artist but conciliatory and imitative in their accommodations. Moreover, for all of Futurism's urgency in changing old European ways through its interventions, there is a peculiar evasiveness in even the most stunning images the movement produced, in some of Mario Sironi's collages from 1914-17, for instance, and in Ardengo Soffici's good still lifes and landscapes from that period. Marinetti spoke of "the need to Americanize ourselves by entering the all-consuming vortex of modernity through its crowds, its automobiles, its telegraphs, its noises, its screeching, its violence, cruelty, cynicism, and unrelenting competition; in short, the exaltation of all the savage anti-artistic aspects of our age." But Futurism, theoretically at least, depended so much on the acquisition of the newly modern and the immediate restoration of the experience to those undergoing it that it was too caught up in the actual; it was more obsessed with actuality than with reality, at the expense of the transformative discontent of the imagination that makes art, even at its most celebrative or most decorative (as in the case of Matisse's decorations), a criticism of reality. I think this accounts for the essentially illustrative quality of so much futurist painting. Boccioni wrote that "for the new conditions of life the Futurists intend to discover a new means of expression." The new expressive means illustrated the feeling tone of those new conditions. It was also the sort of illustration that a very different kind of painter, Morandi, worked to avoid. Though he attended a futurist event (Marinetti organized "happenings" that featured readings, exhibitions, and performances by intonarumori, musical instruments that cranked out acoustic effects like hissing, burbling, razzing, thunder-rolling, etc.) and was familiar with work by Sironi and Soffici, Morandi, with his patient discharging of formal debts to Chardin, CÃ©zanne, and the masterwork tradition Marinetti deplored, was probably as remote from the theatrical dismantlings of Futurism as any artist of the time.
The attention to new facts, along with the importance they attached to dinamismo, led some futurist artists to investigate the nature of their materials. "Instead of humanizing animals, vegetables, and minerals (an outmoded system) we will be able to animalize, vegetalize, mineralize, electrify, or liquify our style, making it live the life of matter." Marinetti is speaking here about futurist poetry, but his intent to "destroy the canals of syntax" and rid poetry of its sentimental and historical excrescences had its equivalents in the practice of futurist painters. Severini's Armored Train, with its slashed multiple perspectives, discloses a file of infantry firing from what looks like a rolling, steel-plated trench, a mounted artillery piece blasting away from the front end. Embedded in sulfurous scissors and triangles of green and yellow light, the train looks encased in its own velocity as it cuts a swath through the teeming air. New martial facts are the painting's subject, but more important for Severini the Futurist, the life of matter is being enacted in paint. In keeping with futurist predilections, however, the scene is empty of sentimental content. The faceless infantrymen in blue capes, like so many cowled anonymous monks at prayer, are presented by the artist's imagination as matter equivalent to the knobby rivet heads efficiently distributed around the train and cannon plates. The soldiers are thus nothing more than elements in a scheme of new formal facts. Like the vehicle they occupy, they have been made over into senseless instruments of a will not their own. The transformational activity Marinetti called for is indeed apparent here, as elsewhere in futurist art, but the discriminating faculty has been sacrificed to the enthusiasm for likenesses.
Contrived, programmatic excitement leads to terminal weariness. The Futurists' relentless brassy optimism, combined with all that elated moonlight killing, in an exhibit of this size leads almost inevitably to the sepulchral tedium and quaintness one feels in a wax museum. The "Futurisms" of Russia, Latin America, Japan, Germany, France, and other countries, which occupy the third-floor galleries, hammer futurist mannerisms into different shapes, with varying degrees of wit and anger (and, in the special case of Vladimir Mayakovski, with different political import). But the surprise comes near the end, in the room devoted to British Futurism, and especially in the work of Christopher Nevinson and Wyndham Lewis.
Two large canvases by Nevinson, Returning to the Trenches (1914-15) and Troops Resting (1916), exploit the formal resources of Futurism. (Nevinson's ties with the futurist movement, loose as they were, lasted until 1919.) Returning to the Trenches is nearly overloaded with the dynamism of soldiers scrambling for safety, ranks tilted and hurtling back toward cover, legs flashing through the serial "moments" familiar in futurist images. The panic, however, is palpable. The image is a design of mortal fear. It accommodates a world of new facts, but the quickness in the draftsmanship and coloring enacts the quick of feeling. In this work, unlike Severini's Armored Train, we can distinguish human from mineral fact. In Troops Resting the angular planes of futurist drawing enact the exhaustion of troops slumped on a railway embankment. Each face has a singular character. Over their heads runs the telegraph line, hovering like an instrument of execution. In A Battery Shelled (1914-18), Wyndham Lewis paints a world in which nearly everything is or will soon become war debris. The stiff forms of the artillerymen imitate the bristling groups of stacked shells, which look like monstrous vegetables, whereas the soldiers' bodies (not those of the officers, who look on calmly from a distance) seem reptilian, armor-plated. Mineral ordnance assumes the look of vegetable abundance; the human is being transformed into mineral matter. The metallic folds of the human forms mock the shape of the landscape, the crudely terraced earthworks colored a sickened blue-green. Here, too, we have a chronicle of new transformations, but they are calibrated by a discriminating intelligence. Lewis's painting is febrile, angry, and accusatory; the passion is enacted in a recognizably futurist vocabulary of forms. But Lewis plays off the cool angularity and centrifugal movement of Futurism against the brittle dread being lived out through those forms.
Marinetti and his group loathed what they called the professorial past. As one arrives at the British room, however, the polemical program of the Futurists and its expression in painting have begun to smell of the lecture hall. For all their clamorous enthusiasm and announcements of passion, the art the Futurists made is eerily lacking in temperament which seems somehow to have been edited out of their program and this lack turns much of their work into academicism. The British room is, on the contrary, practically overripe with temperament; it is, in any case, stretching the issue to identify Nevinson, Lewis, Jacob Epstein, and Gaudier-Brzeska as Futurists. The four were also associated with Vorticism, which for a brief time had points of contact with Futurism. The Vorticists, too, prized energy, action, and force and insisted on claiming the world of new facts. But the new motion valued by the Vorticists did not exclude the velocities of the past; it welcomed, insisted on, all past "vectors" of knowledge as part of the vortex that revolved around the individual artist. A genuinely new work of art, for Gaudier-Brzeska and his friend and advocate Ezra Pound, was inevitably worked on, shaped, by the action of the vortex. Art was an emergence from and out of . The Futurists, by contrast, had only the initiating ego. In his catalogue entry on philosophy Massimo CarrÃ says that "the Futurist ego, or 'I,' is its own act; it acts itself and is nothing without this acting." It acted, moreover, according to a program. The result was to bleed its art of temperament and mood, and to turn it into a new set of idealizations. Any quest for the sort of purity sought by the Futurists has to suppress, eliminate, or reduce to academic exercise the expression of passion for the human. In Boccioni's work after 1910 there is no longer any contest between the flesh and its surroundings because the sense of the carnal is entirely gone.
The British artists were also trying to reckon with world war, and when necessary they tried to enlarge the confines of older narrative conventions to accommodate the new efficiencies for creating what Elias Canetti calls the heaps of the dead. I've already suggested that futurist optimism was a cultivated ignorance, but that is obvious enough and perhaps simplistic. Back of that optimism was, I think, a neurotic fear of reflectiveness and moral consequence. The loud, belligerent generosity that runs through the Futurists' art and writings is also self-righteous protectiveness. They cared abundantly about what artists never ought to care about. They cared about being right. Marinetti called for the expression of a new consciousness, but he and many of his fellows were too impatient, and too obsessed by performance, to do the deeper work to brood on the nature of that consciousness.