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A Tumultuous Assembly: Visual Poems of the Italian Futurists at the Getty Research Institute, the Getty Center, August 1, 2006-January 7, 2007

June 21, 2006

LOS ANGELES—When the Italian Futurists merged art and literature, they created visual poetry, a bold new form of expression. This dynamic genre is explored in depth for the first time in              A Tumultuous Assembly: Visual Poems of the Italian Futurists, at the Getty Research Institute, the Getty Center, August 1, 2006–January 7, 2007.  The exhibition focuses on the Futurists’ move to subvert poetic convention in favor of parole in libertà   (words-in-freedom), allowing readers unprecedented access to poems vertically and horizontally, visually and verbally, iconographically and analogically.

Perhaps the first movement in the history of art to be engineered and managed like a business, Futurism (1909–1944) promoted its product to a wide audience, much like advertising. F.T. Marinetti, the founder of Futurism, orchestrated this artistic movement with his manifestos, the first of which was written in 1909. The Futurist movement advertised its artistic philosophy to the public, and was also a polemic weapon against the conservative academic world.

A Tumultuous Assembly features approximately 50 manuscripts, drawings, rare books, and journals drawn from the special collections of the Research Library at the Getty Research Institute (GRI).  Highlights include BIF&ZF+18 by Ardengo Soffici; the 25-page narrative "Fabbrica + Treno" by Angelo Rognoni, comprising multiple parole recounting a day in the life of a young futurist artist-poet; and F.T. Marinetti’s explosive masterpiece Zang Tumb Tumb.

Marinetti's Futurist manifestos were widely circulated in 1912 and influenced the work of hundreds of writers and poets throughout Europe. This group of young artists began to look for alternative ways to reflect the modern world, which they saw as one transformed by science and industry. Inventions such as the telephone and telegraph had altered concepts of time and space, and post-industrial daily life offered new stimulations for the senses, such as the sounds of trains and automobiles; images of a world lit by electric lights or seen from high up in an airplane; or smells from a factory, ship, or smokestack.

While Futurists extended their influence into all areas of politics and culture, their poetic experiments were among their most original contributions to the 20th-century avant-garde. Their parole deployed explosive language, inventive typography, and unorthodox designs to evoke the modern experience of speeding trains and airplanes, the sounds of bullets and bombs, and the life of factories and the urban cafe. Visual poems broke away from restrictions of syntax and punctuation so that words were “free” to operate on more than one level. Variations in font and size were used to suggest speed or sound volume. Onomatopoetics, as well as musical and mathematical signs, were employed for added meaning. Lines were broken out of their horizontal form into diagonals, verticals, or other shapes, and words and letters were used to build visual images in addition to disrupting linguistic logic.

On view in the exhibition are vibrant examples of this genre in book form, gathered together in anthologies and published in Futurist journals such as Lacerba, which flourished during the early 1900s in Italy. The exhibition explores how this new form of expression was applied to traditional as well as new poetic subject matter. Featured prominently is the topic of war, which the Futurists saw as necessary for dismantling the restrictions of the old world.

A Tumultuous Assembly is the first exhibition to focus solely on visual poems, and to offer translations of these works, allowing non-Italian speaking audiences to experience the full impact of visual poetry.  The exhibition is curated by JoAnne Paradise and Annette Leddy, both of the Getty Research Institute.

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Beth Brett
Getty Communications Dept.

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