Giacomo Balla: Designing the Future
5 April – 25 June 2017
This major show offers a full account of the painting and craft activities of a 65-year career, and puts Futurism on the agenda in these politically charged times.
One might say that the greatest achievement of the Italian Futurists was to back the wrong historical horse and come through with reputations intact. The pages of art history will tell you the group were aligned to fascism. Yes, they were jubilant over the First World War, but who else provided such a coherent reaction to the speed life in the early 20th century?
In 1910, Giacomo Balla signed the Futurist manifesto. But in 1987 some of his works were shown in a German art festival established to lay the ghosts of Nazism to rest. Inclusion in 'documenta' suggests that, as far as international curators are concerned, we can use Balla’s work in the name of any agenda we wish to consider.
His show at Estorick is a major one, promising iconic works of Futurism alongside earlier examples of Divisionism and his work in the field of applied art. Balla taught painting to Umberto Boccioni and Gino Severini, so his influence on the whole Futurist programme cannot be underestimated. Nor should it be.
Happily the legacy of the Italian movement tends to be aesthetic rather than political. With poet and theorist Marinetti at the helm, the group discovered a visual language for the arrival of the motor car, of the industrial city and of the airplane. It seems dynamism, colour, and rhythm have no party politics. So we should be glad that cultural guardians have elected to keep the baby but ditch the bath water.
Not that an important Futurist show will ever be neutral. This one is called Designing the Future, so it is inevitable and necessary we consider the future into which we're hurtling ourselves.