In 1909 F.T. Marinetti, the bowler-hatted mafioso of modernism, let fly with the first manifesto of futurism: “We must shake the gates of life,” he cried, “test the bolts and hinges!” It is true that Marinetti and his merry pranksters threatened to “destroy the museums, libraries, academies of every kind,” but allied to this nihilistic rant was an exhilarating vision of a world that stood poised for redemption.
While the architects and designers of their time were busying themselves with floral patterns and wispy female nudes, Marinetti and the futurists looked to the gritty forms of modern industry: “a roaring car that seems to run on grapeshot”; “deep-chested locomotives whose wheels paw the tracks like the hooves of enormous steel horses”; “factories hung on clouds by the crooked lines of their smoke”; and more ominously, the staccato bursts of machine-gun fire.
The futurist movement began and ended with a celebration of technology, the source of the most vital energies, the most inspiring forms, and the most unimaginable possibilities. Today, gazing bleakly into a future with no fish and no ozone, it may be hard to share the futurists’s naïve techno-exuberance. But we can still appreciate their raw energy and their ecstatic embrace of the new.