Depero from A to Z
"When I shall live of all I thought yesterday,
I shall begin to fear those who copy me"
The art of advertising is decidedly colorful, and obligated to be concise. A bewitching art that boldly finds its way onto walls, building facades, display windows, trains, sidewalks, everywhere.
Fortunato Depero advertised himself as the primary product, through letterhead stationery and posters for the entrances to exhibition spaces, like those he made for the Casa d'Arte Futurista, both in Rovereto and New York.
The automa serves to dramatize the stage – wrote Depero in 1927 – to double, to multiply a character in his various dimensions. A new character-type in his canvases, the Futurist automa is built of elementary geometric forms like the cone, the cube, the cylinder.
One of the first avant-garde theater experiments with the automa, born of Depero’s collaboration with Gilbert Clavel. The actors are puppets, their movements stiff and mechanical, recalling the values of childhood, like dreams and magic. The music for the "Balli plastici" was composed by Alfredo Casella, Gerald Tyrwhitt, Francesco Malipiero, and Bela Bartok, under the pseudonym Chemenov.
Realized in 1914-15 with ordinary materials (metal wire, glass, cardboard, tissue paper) and mechanisms to make them move, they embody the dream of a total work of art, capable of encompassing all the languages of artistic enquiry, from painting and sculpture to music and architecture.
In a self-portrait of 1931, Depero depicts himself as a mountaineer and traveler. Passions that enabled him to fearlessly synthesize contrasting temperaments: attachment to his roots and a drive towards progress. Depero “Diabolicus” transforms the Dolomites into skyscrapers.
Four thirsty mouths
Fortunato Depero did not disdain fine wine. In a poem of 1934 he imagines having “four thirsty mouths”, and confesses to enjoying a wine that is “dense, round, fleshy, nutritious and full”.
Depero enthusiastically joined the Futurist movement at a very young age. Here is an example of the text of the founding Manifesto of 1909: “Let the good incendiaries come with their carbonized fingers!... Here they are! Here they are!... Set the library stacks on fire! Turn the canals in their course to flood the museum vaults!... There go the glorious canvases, floating adrift! Take up the picks and the hammers! Undermine the foundations of the venerable cities!”
In this canvas of 1924, the First World War is transfigured in a carnival of bright colors, where even the abundant blood is portrayed like rivers of beer at a celebration, in a sort of ‘War Pop’.
Hotel Fifth Avenue
In this New York hotel, Mrs. Jacobson put on “a sumptuous banquet” in 1929 that impressed Depero:
"The immense hotel has 17 floors and 1,704 apartments. The soaring towers, perforated by millions of squares, enchant as they rise. 10, 100, 1000, 10,000, a million, ten million illuminated windows. Inside: millions of banquets; inside: millions of loves: inside: millions of writers, readers, sleepers, dancers. Millions of miniscule humans, busy within this cyclopic, metrocubic mechanopolis; inside this babelormous insanoplex, inside this mountainomic dynaworld”.
“The foremost aim of my industry of art is to replace, with ultra-modern intention, every manner of tapestry and carpet, be they Persian, Turkish, Arab or Indian, that today invade every respectable environment”.
1925 saw the triumph of an Afro-American revue starring Josephine Baker, daughter of the devil, serpent of fire, fistful of lightning and seduction. The modernity and audacity of the stage show pushed every limit. The backdrops, sets, dancing, music and costumes were original and well executed.
North American dynamism distilled to its essence; overlapping metropolitan perspectives alternating with tropical landscapes and still lifes. Elements of ocean liners: smokestacks, pipes, gangways, ropes, steamer trunks; oblique views of skyscrapers seen from below; palms, cacti, banana trees and giant watermelons, sliced and crisply painted with succulent scenographic rhythm.
Le Chant du Rossignol
In 1916 Sergei Diaghilev, impresario of the Ballets Russes, commissioned Depero to design the sets and costumes for “Le Chant du Rossignol”, a ballet inspired by the Andersen fairy tale, composed by Stravinsky. Although the ballet was never performed, Depero’s sets still represent the ideal of Futurist experimentation.
Published in 1934, intended to be read on the radio. The character of radiophonic lyric must be spatial, deliberate, sonorous, unexpected, magical, it must vibrate like a neon lamp on the reality that transforms the listener, like an apparition, a landscape, a cosmic vision.
In the 1950s Depero designed and built, thankd to the collaboration of the Municipality of Rovereto, the first museum of Italian Futurism, a curious and intelligent consecration of its work. When he passed in 1960, Depero bequeathed his entire estate to the city.
In 1928, after the success enjoyed in a series of important national and international exhibitions, Depero and Rosetta moved to New York. Their stay in the US lasted from November 1928 to October 1930. The impact with New York was thrilling but at the same time complicated for Depero, who opened Depero’s Futurist House, an American affiliate of the original in Rovereto, without the reception he had hoped for.
The total renewal desired by Futurism is most clearly revealed in Depero’s “parole in libertà” and “tavole parolibere”. In particular, the Bolted Book “Depero futurista” of 1927 is unique for its bold layout and daring use of fonts. Depero recalls the hostility of the typesetters, who had to disassemble the book every 10 pages in order to recover the characters and continue.
Ricostruzione Futurista dell'Universo
When Giacomo Balla (1871-1958) and Fortunato Depero signed the manifesto “Ricostruzione futurista dell’universo” in 1915, they wanted to implement a radical transformation of the human environment that involved every aspect of life, from furniture to fashion, cinema to theater, music to dance, advertising to product design.
“Città meccanizzata dalle ombre” is a painting suspended in a timeless fairytale atmosphere. The idea of a shadow cast by a body onto the ground enchanted Depero, who considered it a sort of automa ante litteram. It was mentioned in an especially evocative novella by Carlo Belli.
The encounter in Capri in 1917 with Gilbert Clavel, poet with a keen interest in esoteric sciences, and with the international milieu of Diaghilev’s "Ballets Russes" opened a world of new experiences for Depero. From Clavel he was commissioned to do the illustrations for the latter’s novella “Un Istituto per suicidi”. It tells the story of a man looking for a “public service for death” in order to commit suicide: the illustrations in ink and charcoal are characterized by a bold Cubo-Futurist approach.
The artist’s wife, Rosetta Amadori, played a central role in the execution of his tapestries: it was she who oversaw the workers who cut the fabric, using patterns from Depero’s original drawings, who basted them onto “cotton duck”, finally sewing them using a “whipstitch”. The tapestries were a great success at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Dècoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris in 1925 and at the XV Esposizione Internazionale d'Arte di Venezia in 1926.
In 1923 Depero, together with Luciano Baldessari, Carlo Belli, Fausto Melotti and others organized this extraordinary party at his Casa d’Arte. The ephemeral event represents both the culmination and the conclusion of a program aimed at unifying all the arts.
For Diaghilev, impresario of the Ballets Russes, Depero prepared the costumes and sets for “Il giardino zoologico” by Cangiullo. The animated objects and anthropomorphic animals that populate the fables of Andersen inspired works like “L'orso bruno chauffeur” exhibited in a solo show in Capri in 1917.
What treasures might a contemporary art and culture archive contain? What stories are hidden in the materials it preserves? Join us as we explore the Mart’s Archivio del ’900.