The Guggenheim Museum opened their comprehensive retrospective of Italian Futurism on Friday, the avant-garde art movement of the early 20th century that everyone is talking about. The exhibition contains 300 pieces created from 1909 to 1944, but what is Futurism and why should you care?

What is Futurism? Why is it Italian?
Those questions are two sides of the same coin. In 1909 the Italian poet and writer Filippo Tommaso Emilio Marinetti published the Futurist Manifesto, a youthful celebration of technology, dynamism, speed, and violence. Marinetti condemns museums and the academy because of their associations with the elderly bourgeoise and, as is to be expected, fetishizes the metropolitan laborer and the glory of hard, industrial toil. It's an art movement that indicts art and celebrates war as "the only cure for the world."

The Italian connection is because it was founded by an Italian and concentrated mostly in Italy. There was some Futurist activity in Moscow, though the Russian Futurism was primarily a literary practice, and had the most impact during Lenin's rise before dying out in the late 1920s. Futurism was so closely linked with Italian politics, nationalism, and industrialization that it didn't gain a lot of traction elsewhere, and most of the folks practicing it were of Italian descent. By the end of World War I and the advent of a second wave of Futurism, the movement was essentially inextricable from the burgeoning fascist regime of Benito Mussolini.

Was it fascist?
Basically. The infamous phrase from Marinetti's first manifesto claiming war as "the world's only hygiene" is a pretty direct line to the pro-war, anti-history politics that were foundational to the movement (and vital to fascist doctrine). The Italian Futurists were also active and vocal proponents in the lead-up to World War I. Though the movement in it's original formation had mostly fizzled out by the end of the war, Marinetti revived the movement and stayed active in the fascist political climate of post-war Italy, advocating for Futurism as the state art and becoming closer with Prime Minister Benito Mussolini (Il Duce).

What was their art like?
As previously stated, in Russia Futurism was poetic and literary. In Italy, it took forms as diverse as architecture, music, literature, and film. With the development and proliferation of flight technology, aeropainting emerged as a primary expression of the form from the 1920s to the 1940s. Futurism was a contemporary of the more Paris-centered Cubism, and some artists merged the styles into Russian Cubo-Futurism.

Benedetta (Benedetta Cappa Marinetti), Syntheses of Communications (Sintesi delle comunicazioni), 1933-34. Tempera and encaustic on canvas, dimensions variable. Il Palazzo delle Poste di Palermo, Sicily, Poste Italiane © Benedetta Cappa Marinetti, used by permission of Vittoria Marinetti and Luce Marinetti’s heirs. Installation view: Italian Futurism, 1909-1944: Reconstructing the Universe, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, February 21-September 1, 2014. Photo: Kris McKay © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York

Aesthetically, Futurism was a lot of primary colors and hard lines, infected by the disjointed perspective of Cubist portraiture, while also embracing the brushwork of Impressionism. We mentioned some of the subject matter above: war, machinery, modernization, urbanism, vertigo, construction, flight, youth, labor, and revolt. You can find a nice assembly of paintings here.

We can see the legacy of Futurism all over contemporary culture: graphic design, illustration, cyberpunk, science-fiction and film (notably in Blade Runner), futurists, biotechnology or "the metallization of the human body," manga, and art deco, as well as the more direct impact it had on the subsequent movements of Surrealism and Dada.

How Does It Make You FEEL?
Ideologically, Futurism had elements of anarchism and communism, was overtly patriarchal and misogynist, and emerged as arguably the first modernist (art) movement that united a philosophy of the future with anti-intellectual, anti-cultural (establishment) politics, justified by blind nationalistic faith in the classically fascist model of a highly politicized militant government.

Like the best Soviet art, German expressionist film, and science fiction, Futurism is full of dynamic motion and achieves a kind of variant anachronism—always evoking a time-not-yet-arrived or a past-that-never-was with a visual language quite legible in any present moment. Like the best art, it attempts to inspire action, civic and political. Like the best (read: most nefarious) ideologies, it was driven by a compelling and authoritative leading voice that thrived on complex symbols, xenophobic fears, and conservative values masked by a rabid support of the chaos of modernization.

As the movement of Futurism is now relegated to history, this is obviously a part of a process of forcefully divesting the toxic convictions from the artistic products. It is a part of the endless art/ethic dialectic. A modern audience can look on Futurism artwork and likely enjoy and understand it naturally and acutely, perhaps more-so than other movements before or after, but that understanding also comes at a cost.

For a reference point, Italian theorist Franco "Bifo" Berardi's Manifesto Of Post-Futurism, released on the 100th anniversary of the publication of the original manifesto, is a fantastic touchstone for both early 21st century Marxist critical theory and a contemporary critique of Marinetti's Futurism. It insightfully provides one such Way To Feel.*

Anything else?
While exhibit itself is not currently embroiled in controversy, the Guggenheim itself happens to be.

In a demonstration taking place two days before its opening, a group of activists took to the museum to protest the alleged indentured labor will be used to construct a new Guggenheim branch on the artificial Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi. This is a part of a long-running courtship of Western universities and cultural institutions by the U.A.E., the most visible and prominent of which is NYU's recently completed full-fledged research university.

So check out the exhibition, and maybe go when it is free on Saturday night; be mindful of the cheap global labor market and development, perhaps protest in the spirit of adolescent bloom, be wary of fascist thoughts, keep an eye towards history while contemplating the present, whatever—the choice is yours. The exhibit runs through September.

*h/t Cecilia D'Anastasio