From in Europe as well North America. Meanwhile,

From the numerous styles that came
into existence in response to the Avant-Garde
movement in the 19th Century Art Nouveau is probably one of the most
well know in general, even now an example
of this style can be found in many countries in Europe as well North America. Meanwhile, in Italy,
another movement challenged the status quo, the Italian Futurist, whose
influence was mostly centred in Italy.
Both these movements tried two moves away from the cultural influences of the
past and develop something truly new, each took a different route and in this essay,
I will look at the difference and similarities between the two.

The Italian Futurist movement was
founded by the exuberant and vocal poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti in 1909. The
Futurists wanted a more modern culture, one based on dynamism, simultaneity, speed, the embrace of the machine, the
modern city and the believed that everything from the past should be rejected
and discarded to make way for a new and modern way of living1. In
its infancy, the futurist aimed to capture the intensity of Italy on the verge
of huge modern changes, capturing the image of a
Utopian ideal. Painter’s such as Umberto Boccioni would produce work
representing machines and men at work and playing at high speed. Yet by 1919 as
the Fascist movement was officially founded in Italy most of this optimism of
pre-WWI Europe had disappeared.

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This wasn’t the end of the movement
though, as futurist artists began to concern themselves with all forms of art
include things such as music, food and many others. The goal of these new futurists was to remake the world
with a modern eye and disruption became their objective. While Futurism and
Fascism have always been linked their relationship is difficult to explain and understand because while the futurist did want
to be the official art movement of Mussolini’s party, he never declared them to
be and in fact preferred more classical styles2. A
view shared by Futurism and Fascism alike was the celebrated war as mean to
revitalise and remake Italy3.
Furthermore, both movements showed
extreme nationalism wanting to reshape Italy politically as well as culturally.

With regards to architecture, the
movement authored The Manifesto of
Futurist Architecture. Two different manifestos were created, one by the
Architect Antonio Sant’Elia and another by the artist Umberto Boccioni.

Boccioni’s Manifesto reflects much
of Henry van de Velde’s advanced engineering application lessons, who was also a
leading figure in the Art Nouveau Movement in Belgium, as well as taking
inspiration from Adolf Loos’ famous Ornament
and Crime, wanting radically to abolish all decorative work from buildings.
In 1901 during his lessons, van de Velde states that engineers are “the creators of the new architecture”
by using “calculation” and new
materials such as “metals, glass and
ceramic”, to create “hitherto
unheard-of objects: locomotives, bicycles, automobiles, sensational steamships
and the gigantic machinery used in modern industry”. Their creations are to
obey “logical and rational laws” and
the esthetic results are not considered a primary objective. Boccioni expands
upon these concepts and declares that works of art, including painting and sculpture, “consist of calculations”. He then transitions into an area that
would later be called design declaring that “a
surgical instrument, a steamship, a machine or a railroad station embodies a
necessity of life in its construction which creates a composition of empty
spaces, filled spaces, lines, balanced planes and equations, by means of which
a new architectural emotion is created”. Boccioni concludes his manifesto
by condemning the plagiarism and “stylistic
mystification” of the past stating that they must do away with “slavery to antique order and styles”
and to “foreign styles” reflecting
the general view of all Avant Garde movements at the time4.

In many aspects,
Sant’Elia manifesto is quite like Boccioni’s. He similarly fights against a “moronic” mixture of elements from different styles and
invokes an architecture that has its purpose and place in modern life. Sant’Elia
adds that we have lost our taste for “the
monumental, the heavy, the static, and we have enriched our sensibility with a taste for the light, the practical, the
ephemeral and the swift” reflecting
the view of the rest of the futurist movement outside of architecture. In his manifesto, Sant’Elia goes into more detail on
his views, describing those things he supports as well as those things he
despises. Among the latter Sant’Elia has a similar distaste for the “plagiarism”
of classic architecture as well as condemning the use of antiquated and costly
materials. He proclaims that futurist architecture is an architecture of
“calculation, of audacious temerity and
of simplicity; the architecture of reinforced concrete, of steel, glass,
cardboard, textile fiber, and of all those substitutes for wood, stone and
brick that enable us to obtain maximum elasticity and lightness”, yet he reiterates
that it should remain art and is not to be just
built around practicality and usefulness. He encourages the use of
oblique and elliptic stating they are dynamic and “by their very nature possess an emotive power a thousand times
stronger than perpendiculars and horizontals”. He goes on to criticise the
decoration of buildings saying that the decorative value of Futurist
Architecture is solely depended on the arrangement of building materials. He
finishes off with an interesting point
stating that by its nature Futurist
architecture will never be permanent as it is not the building that will
outlive us but rather things will endure less than us and thus must go through
a constant change as every generation
builds their own unique city5.

The Art Nouveau Movement developed
out of a major faction in the decorative arts movement that first sprang up in
Western Europe in 1892. Many people in this decorative movement were tired of
the usual repetitive forms and methods and wanted something new rather than the same old endless imitations of
classical furniture. Like the Futurists,
they sought something new and wanted to be free from the influences of the past
and foreign taste. The 19th Century had been a focus on function,
with ornamentation, finishing touches, elegance and beauty being made secondary,
leaving a need to recreate the decorative arts. On the 22nd of December 1891 Siegfried Bing, returning from an assignment
in the US, opened a shop named Art Nouveau. This store would eventually give its name to the movement, but this designation
fails at encompassing the whole of the movement as it would rise in many
European countries and even make its way to America and the style Art Nouveau
would vary depending on the country and prevailing taste6.

The revolution of Art Nouveau started off in England where
the movement gained a foothold due to architects such as A.W.N Pugin. While
people such as art critic John Ruskin were the originators of the movement architects
such as Phillip Webb and Walter Crane would soon become its figureheads. Around them arose a group of new designers,
illustrators and decorators who create beautiful works composed of decorative
caprices of flora and fauna both animal and human. As mentioned before the
Italian Futurist would completely ignore anything belonging to the past or
other cultures even going so far as to openly reject these already existing
styles, meanwhile Art Nouveau and the decorative movement saw no shame in
taking an example from other cultures and
the past and were a lot more lenient in that regard. Despite this, though it still worth noting that they
never meticulously copied their sources of inspiration and always just took bit
and pieces of it to create a new an original style7

Most of these architects didn’t see
any problem in being both architects and decorator, in fact, many of them strived to achieve a perfect balance between
interior and exterior. In contrast Boccioni in his writings on futurist
architecture states that “Even the outer
façade of a building must descend, ascend, decompose, withdraw or extend
outwards, according to the requirements of the rooms within”, suggesting
approached that focused more of the functionality of the interior of the
building rather the aesthetic of the exterior. Furthermore, where bright and
pastel colour was introduced into Art
Nouveau buildings the futurist suggested that only the colour created by the
raw building materials were important and that things such as paint and
decoration were only secondary over the structure and functionality of a
building. Finally, in England, there was
a desire to redo everything from overall structural ornamentation to the
humblest domestic object which again heavily contrasts with Sant’Elia’s drawings
that features large grand designs with only minimal attention paid to smaller
details8.

From England the movement spread to Belgium, here it
was adopted by local architects such a Victor Horta, Paul Hankar, Gustave
Serrurier-Bovy and Henry van de Velde. These four artists were a lot less
conservative resulting in them being a lot less influenced by tradition and
being almost completely unassociated with it. In Belgium, the new decorative movement began to adopt lines and
curves based on torsions and dances forming a “delirium of curves, obsessive in appearance and often torture to the
eyes”. Belgium wasn’t as chained to tradition as England was and Belgian architects
were mainly focused on discovering new and comfortable interior arrangements,
yet however successful they were in this regard they were still expected to
satisfy the Flemish Taste for abundance and elaborative decoration9.

Art Nouveau would then move on to France were it the
passion for it was different. Instead of decorating with schematically stylised
flora and fauna, French artists concentrated on ornamentation that retained the
flower’s natural grace and showed the figure at its best. They looked for the
novelty in absolute realism. Many artists grew came out of Art Nouveau in France,
but it really exploded when posters designed by Alphonso Mucha began to be
plastered all over Paris as well as architect Hector Guimard who style, derided
as style nouille
(translating to “noodle style” another term used for Art Nouveau) would shape the identity of the Paris
Metro. Afterwards Art Nouveau would spread to much
more country in Europe as well as to America. Unfortunately, in the end, it would stray far away from its original
aspiration, becoming an expensive and elitist style10.

While these two movements differ in
varying ways the most prominent difference might well be the scale, while the
Futurists were largely confined to Italy
Art Nouveau would spread across most of the then Western World. Yet as
mentioned before the nature of Futurism makes it so it will never be permanent
but rather forever change reflecting its
views of dynamism and renewal. Meanwhile,
Art Nouveau is even now admired by many modern architects and might have become
in a way its own version of “classical”
as architecture for our current generation of architects and designers.

As two of the largest movements in
the Avant-Garde, Art Nouveau and the
Italian Futurist could not be more different. The Futurists while limited in its scope, lifetime and scale, where
revolutionary in their Utopian ideals of
speed, dynamism and the idea of the modern city, based on functionality rather than aesthetic. Art Nouveau not unlike the
Futurist movement aimed to find a new identity but rather than the latter they did not reject their past
but rather used it to inspire a new an original style balancing both aesthetic
and functionality. And while different movements of Art Nouveau varied from
country to country they also still retained to desire to find a new an original
style. Personally, I think this one of the only aspects in which the Futurist
and Art Nouveau match, they both have a
desire to create a style that was new a unique and they succeeded in this goal as
evidenced by the many differences between the two movements.

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