Arts Curriculum

Design

Futurist toys will also be very useful for adults, helping to keep them young, agile, playful, carefree, ready for everything, tireless, instinctive, and intuitive. —Fortunato Depero12

 

Design

Fortunato Depero, Depero’s Futurist Waistcoat (Panciotto futurista di Depero), 1923. Pieced wool on cotton backing, approximately 52 x 45 cm. Private collection © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SIAE, Rome. Photo: Vittorio Calore

Italian Futurism was more than an artistic movement; it was a way of life. It did not limit its aesthetic reach to traditional easel painting but rather embraced the concept of the opera d’arte totale, or “total work of art,” which sought to situate the viewer at the center of a Futurist ensemble of painting, architecture, furniture, design, ceramics, art, textiles, and clothing.

In the first phase of Futurism, the opera d’arte totale focused on the domestic sphere or intimate public spaces such as restaurants, but by its second phase in the 1930s, it shifted focus to large-scale commissions for public buildings. Giacomo Balla (1871–1958) and Fortunato Depero’s (1892–1960) manifesto “Futurist Reconstruction of the Universe” (1915) argues for the concept and reimagines every aspect of life in terms of Futurist aesthetics and ideas. Despite this attempt to tear down the barriers between high and low art, the Futurists still privileged traditional “high art” such as painting.

In 1919, Depero’s interests in design and business led him to open a workshop in his hometown. From there, he designed and sold tapestries, pillows, posters, furniture, “toys,” and stained glass. These brightly colored objects feature fantastical imagery such as mechanized dolls and exotic animals. He also produced whimsical vests inlaid with bright fabric in geometric designs representing snakes, fish, and wild plants.

Depero also received commissions to design several interior spaces. For a nightclub in Rome in 1922, The Devil’s Cabaret, he divided the space into zones representing heaven, purgatory, and hell. His experience with theatrical set designs from earlier in the century prepared him for these ventures and his interest in the mechanical aspects of set design (such as marionettes) prefigured his toy design. Depero’s Futurist world encompassed nearly every aspect of life.

12. Giacomo Balla and Fortunato Depero, “Futurist Reconstruction of the Universe,” in Futurism: An Anthology, eds. Lawrence Rainey, Christine Poggi, and Laura Wittman (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), p. 212.

Fortunato Depero, Depero’s Futurist Waistcoat (Panciotto futurista di Depero), 1923. Pieced wool on cotton backing, approximately 52 x 45 cm. Private collection © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SIAE, Rome. Photo: Vittorio Calore

 

Show: Depero’s Futurist Waistcoat (1923)

  • Look together at Fortunato Depero’s design. What do students notice about it?
  • Imagine you could ask this object questions. List them. Help students categorize the questions. Some may be about function, others about form.
  • Tell them that this is a waistcoat or vest designed by the Futurist artist Depero. In addition to making art, Depero designed clothing along with many other objects such as toys, furniture, and tapestries. Depero and the Futurists did not limit their artistic movement to paintings. Rather, they believed in the concept of the opera d’arte totale, or “total work of art,” which sought to redesign a new way of life. Ask students about this idea. Do they think artists should limit themselves to traditional art forms such as painting and sculpture or do they think artists should seek to redesign other (and even all) areas of life?
  • According to Giacomo Balla and Depero’s manifesto “Futurist Reconstruction of the Universe” (1915), all parts of our world should be remade to be abstract, dynamic, transparent, strongly colored and luminous, autonomous, transformable, dramatic, volatile, fragrant, noise-making, and exploding. Ask students what they think of these adjectives. Which adjectives would they use to describe the way they would like to remake their world?
Fortunato Depero, Depero’s Futurist Waistcoat (Panciotto futurista di Depero), 1923. Pieced wool on cotton backing, approximately 52 x 45 cm. Private collection © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SIAE, Rome. Photo: Vittorio Calore



  • The Futurists’ belief in the “total work of art” led them to redesign unexpected areas of our lives. One campaign attempted to reimagine men’s hats and produced, for example, a “radiotelephonic” hat and a “luminous” hat. Futurism also moved into the realm of the kitchen. Its founder, Marinetti, wrote a cookbook and a manifesto to broadcast his ideas about the Futurist meal. In particular, he declared a war on pasta, arguing that it made people “skeptical, slow and pessimistic.”13 The Futurists wanted to transform meals from monotonous routines into artistic experiences. For this activity, challenge students to work in groups to redesign an unexpected area of our lives— whether that be an aspect of fashion, design, or our social lives, such as meals. They should then present and/or stage this redesign within the classroom. If they are redesigning meals, for instance, they should cook and serve food to their classmates.
    Social Studies
    Visual Arts
  • In one section of Balla and Depero’s manifesto, they present guidelines on how to design a modern Futurist toy. Read their guidelines and then design your own Futurist toy. “In the domain of games and toys … one sees only grotesque imitation, timidity … things that are monotonous and discourage exercise, prone only to dishearten children and make them stupid. … [W]e will construct toys which accustom the child:

    1. To wholehearted laughter …
    2. To maximum elasticity …
    3. To imaginative impulses …
    4. To the continual exercise and streamlining of his sensibility …
    5. To physical courage, struggle, and WAR.”14

    Ask students how their designs met Depero’s guidelines and how they differ from toys they are accustomed to.
    Visual Arts
  • As an extension to the above activity or separately, ask students whether they agree with Balla and Depero’s ideas about the reconstruction of the toy. Challenge them to write their own guidelines for the redesign of toys so that they are more suited to our modern age. Their guidelines should explain why they fit with our new age and give examples for toy designs.
    English Language Arts

13. http://www.cipa.ulg.ac.be/intervalles2/delville.pdf

14. Balla and Depero, “Futurist Reconstruction of the Universe,” pp. 211-12.

2009-07-15-15-00-47
Italian Futurism, 1909–1944: Reconstructing the Universe related terms and additional resources

Download the Italian Futurism, 1909–1944: Reconstructing the Universe PDF of all lessons