This summer at the New York Historical Society internship program, I, along with two other interns, am studying Abraham Manievich’s “The Bronx” painting. My focus is on the style in which it was done, which is known as cubo-futurist. Futurism was not just a style of painting, it was a philosophy that touched visual art, poetry, and even playwrights all across Europe. In 1909, the Italian poet, Filippo Marinetti, published The Futurist Manifesto outlining the four principles of futurism: speed, youth, violence, and industry. Essentially, it was a call for the violent destruction of the past and a celebration of the future and its youth. It was a movement away from the past artists and philosophers who focused on celebrating nature and the natural world to “give artistic expression to the ‘intense and tumultuous’ life of the newly industrialized landscape.” Instead of painting women, flowers, and palaces, they would paint telephone poles, airplanes, and trains. Futurists introduced the notion of “unlearning” their current language and culture and since almost all artists were also poets, this was a big part of the philosophy.
Russia-based Manievich was highly influenced by the movement in Eastern Europe. In 1915 Russia, before Manievich immigrated to the United States, at the winter palace, there was a futurist exhibition spearheaded by the Kasimir Malevich, author of From Cubism to Futurism to Suprematism: The New Painting Realism. The art of cubo-futurists was focused on the dimensions of squares and circles and in some cases, was even based in Euclidean geometry. It was the goal of Russian cubo-futurists to “get rid of the object completely” that is, to examine the object at hand from so many different perspectives that it is almost impossible to discern it at all. Many were searching for the “fourth dimension,” something they thought was obtainable and even mathematically proven to exist. Futurism was one of the first philosophies to be accompanied so closely by art and poetry and it urged the reader to “hurry up and shed the hardened skin of centuries, so that you can catch up with us more easily.” They believed this was the path of the future; this was the culture of tomorrow. Futurists came from the lower echelons of European society and had a totally different perspective than their aristocratic symbolist predecessors. Furthermore, symbolists were mostly concerned with getting in touch with their souls and really tapping into their inner emotions. Futurists, on the other hand, were interested in the collective “we” of the movement. Both Marinetti’s manifesto and Malevich’s manifesto placed a huge emphasis on the “we” rather than “I.”
The pre-war period was a confusing time of both intense nationalism and interconnected internationalism, which made the harsh, violent rhetoric of futurism somewhat difficult to interpret. Examination of some tenants of the philosophy, however, clearly shows the path Europe was on in terms of the ultra-nationalism and abolition of the individual that was seen later in the century, such as Nazism and Communism. Stay tuned for more about “The Bronx!”