El Universo Futurista, Fundación Proa, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Review by Mónica Blundell from Buenos Aires, Argentina
Before visiting the Futurism exhibition at Fundación Proa in Buenos Aires, I did not know what Futurism was nor was I aware of its existence as an artistic and social movement. The gist of it is the following: it originated in Italy in the early 20th century, along the same time frame as other avant garde movements such as Cubism and Dadaism, and its founders were interested in creating a new perception of Italian art, far removed from Leonardo DaVinci.
The exhibition is set up amongst two floors and is divided by medium. Upon entering the exhibit lies the limited but striking music section, consisting of four large instruments that resemble a simpler and larger version of a phonograph. The instruments vary from having two to three chords and on the back of the box is a handle that moves a wheel that strikes the chords and creates sound. What kind of sound do they make? Well, the inventor of this instrument, Luigi Russolo, was inspired by what he heard in his immediate environment, which happened to be sirens and traffic, basically, all the noise one could expect to hear in an emerging city street in the early 20th century. Not something I would choose to listen to myself, but hey.
Gino Severini, Portrait of Madame M.S. 1915 (1913), Crayon on Canvas, 91 x 65 cm
The next room houses a mixture of paintings and sculptures, all very geometrical and similar in ways to Futurism’s avant-garde contemporaries, like Cubism. The piece above, for example, shares similarities to Cubism, but there is a fundamental difference between the two. The way Cubists would depict a subject from a variety of perspectives in one piece, Futurists tried to capture movement in one piece. They were inspired by recently developed cameras and movies, and wanted to understand the world through movement, noting that nothing in the world stays still.
In this second room, the walls of paintings are also divided chronologically. The first wall depicts the Futurist focus on movement, while the second wall shows their developing interest in war and industrialization. The third and final wall is an attempt at correcting the conviction amongst scholars that futurism ended with the first World War, and shows the final development in Futurist painting, Aeropainting, which ended in 1936. Having the room divided this way made for a clear understanding of the this movement’s progression, which scored big points in my appreciation of and what I could take away from the exhibit.
Moving on from painting and sculpture are sketches of Futurist architecture and fashion, a display of published Futurist literature, and a surprisingly contemporary looking photo exhibit. Futurists believed humans outlast buildings, in the sense that coming generations have different needs from the present generation. They sketched buildings fashioned out of temporary materials that could easily be removed and would leave a clean slate for the upcoming generations. Practical? No. Were any of their plans realized? No. However, Futurist ideas for fashioning temporary structures were not completely ignored. Depending on the exhibit, this one being an example, gallery spaces often need to put up plywood walls and moveable fixtures to accommodate pieces of art.
Finally, on the second level of the museum is a theater and dance section, with costumes hanging from the ceiling on fishing line and a series of framed sketches of sets not designed for any particular play, rather intended for a play to be developed and adapted to the set. This might have been my favorite part of the exhibit, considering that in this section, all of the elements from the other sections came in and gave a rounded view of the Futurism movement. Costumes reflected the fashion design, the sets reflected the architecture, and a brief synopsis of one of the plays provided by the tour guide reflected the ideology behind Futurism.
Overall, I left the exhibition feeling pleased that I had gone and that I genuinely learned something new. The pieces were organized in a way that made the artwork approachable, not overwhelming, which is a feat considering the exhibition spans the entirety of the museum. The information provided by the pieces, however, is sparse, so a free, guided tour is highly recommended, otherwise you might feel a bit lost. Despite this rather significant flaw, the exhibit really is worth seeing. If you’re into the avant garde and find yourself in Buenos Aires before August, then by all means think about paying La Proa a visit.
To learn more about the Fundación PROA, including extensive resources on their “El Universo Futurista. 1909 – 1936″ exhibition, visit their website.