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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Carlo Carra

The Red Rider, 1912, Carlo Carrà.
I wonder if this was the inspiration for Ford's Mustang logo.
Picasso? No, Carrà, Carlo Carrà,
The Woman on the Balcony, 1912.
Futurism was a second cousin to Cubism.
We often hear, or use the phrase "modern looking" in our daily life. However, most people would have a difficult time defining just what "modern looking" means. Worse, there would probably be as many different definitions as definers. Several words would pop up repeatedly though--sleek, clean, uncluttered, streamlined, unadorned, etc. The more erudite might recite the tired mantra, "form follows function," or perhaps the equally old and tired "less is more." What we now consider "modern" in appearance owes its genesis to three historic movements. (1) Aircraft design, (2) the German (later American) Bauhaus, and finally (3) the Italian Futurist movement. Pretty much everyone is familiar with the way streamlined aircraft begat streamlined cars starting in the 1930s, continuing today with our plethora of "jellybean" lookalikes roaming the highways. Today everything from toasters to hairdryers seek to look modern via streamlining. Where streamlining seemed inappropriate, or counter-functional, the Bauhaus, and its progenitor, Cubism (above, left), came into play. The box rules--and like streamlining, continues to be a major factor in modern design.

Funeral of the Anarchist, Galli, 1911, Carlo Carrà. Sure looks like anarchy to me.
Carlo Carrà Self-portrait, 1951,
(after he'd settled down a bit).
But Futurism? What's that? Only the third most influential factor in the definition of "modern looking." Yet, even artists seem hardly aware of it, and largely ignorant of its concepts and those espousing them. The concepts were spelled out in the 1909 Manifesto of Futurist Painters. Carlo Carrà (right) was one of the four original signers of this statement of principles, along with Umberto Boccioni, Gino Severini, Luigi Russolo and Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (below, who authored it). First and foremost, it rejected (or claimed to) everything from the past regarding art and design. In its place came the embrace of machinery, speed, youth, industry, and violence aimed primarily at a cultural regeneration of Italy. Leonardo and Michelangelo were out, Picasso, Vincenzo Lancia, Frank Lloyd Wright, Henry Ford, and Fascism were in. Moreover, there was a virulent anarchist pedigree to the whole movement, though by the second decade of the 20th century it had become largely muted. Carra's 1911 Funeral of the Anarchist Galli (above) illustrates this element. After WW I, these ideals once more came to the fore in ever-greater complexity in the European Dada movement, and later still, evolving into Surrealism.

The Futurists, 1910: Luigi Russolo, Carlo Carrà, Filippo Marinetti, Umberto Boccioni, and Gino Severini.
San Gaudenzio di Varallo, 1924, Carlo Carrà. What a difference a war makes.
The Engineer's Lover, 1921, Carlo Carrà,
one of his first Metaphysical efforts. 
Carlo Carrà was born in 1881 in Quargnento, Italy, (top of the boot, towards the left). He was not foremost in the Futurist movement, more of a follower than a leader. And as the war came and the movement waned, he and most of the others abandoned it. In Carra's case, after something of a struggle to "find himself," and after buying himself a brand new palette of softer, duller colors, he took up with Giorgio di Chirico and his Metaphysical painting. He painted mysterious still-lifes bearing the seeds of Surrealism such as his The Engineer's Lover from 1921. Carra's Metaphysical period lasted through most of the 1920s and 30s until yet another world war came along. Having survived a second manifestation of the "violence clause" of the Futurist Manifesto, after the war, Carrà essential rejected Futurism (perhaps because of the war) and embraced the Italian classicism of Masaccio. Talk about returning to your roots! He died in Milan in 1966.

Flight into Egypt, 1958, Carlo Carrà, back to his roots.


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