From his early years in Turin, where he developed his unique technique alongside the Divisionist school, to his time in Rome, where he furthered his iconic style (weaving together bright colors, strong contrasts and daring framings) and socialist principles, this exhibit charts his pioneering journey. This is the forward to his participation in Futurism, founded in 1909 by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. Thanks to the solicitations of the younger student Umberto Boccioni, in 1910 Balla was among the signers of the Futurist Manifesto and of the following technical manifesto, in which he accepts the invitation to paint “the persistency of the image in the retina, the movements that multiply, warp, come in succession with vibrations in the space of the trace”. From the beginning he was committed to the analytic study of movement and, in 1913, he undergoes a complete overhaul of his style, auctioning off all of his previous paintings and declaring that “Balla is dead!”. From this point on, Balla would sign his artworks with the name 'Futurballa' instead. In 1915, Balla strikes up an important partnership with the Roveretian Fortunato Depero. Together they designed and signed the 'Manifesto of the Futuristic Reconstruction of the Universe', which marks a key moment in the development of the Futurist aesthetic. The two artists together theorized a break with pictorial tradition, reinventing the artistic landscape by working across disciplines to achieve a “total fusion in order to build the universe anew, recreating it completely”. From this moment on, Balla starts innovative experimentations in a variety of artistic disciplines; from painting to graphic design, and from fashion to theatre. His house, at first in Parioli and then in Oslavia in Rome, become a lively hotbed of creativity where his magical creations were born. The rooms of his house, entirely decorated and furnished by Balla himself, opened to the public between 1919 and 1920. Balla was reconstructing the universe by beginning with his own home.
Over the first decade of the 20th century Balla dedicated himself to portraiture, working to capture the psychological depth of his subjects. On joining the Divisionist movement, he created artworks preoccupied with light, which is captured by quick, separated strokes. Artemisia (perhaps identifiable as a lady from Anzio, where the artist lived in the spring of 1906 and summer of 1908) has her face almost completely in the shade, contrasting with the light behind her that is coming through the window that frames the portrait.
Movement - Velocity - Light
A scientific interest in the movement and effect of light dominates Balla’s Futuristic artworks, which he developed in the winter between 1912 and 1913 when he moved to Dusseldorf to work on the decoration of Casa Lowenstein. It was here that he realized the first works from the “Compenetrazioni iridescenti” series, in which his study of light and movement - reduced to geometric schemes of colored triangles - reaches pure abstraction.
This work is a joyous ode to the speed and excitement of motor travel, in which Balla translates the movement of the wheels into a dynamic succession of shapes that start and end where lines intersect. Time, another topic central to Futurism, is firstly fractured into instants that overlap and superimpose one another in the large triangles on the surface, and secondly recedes into the depth of the "Vortex", which is the subject of another work from the “Velocità astratte” series that Balla worked on from 1913 to 1914.
This work is inspired by an experience Balla had in the park of Villa Borghese in 1916, just before the First World War. Reflecting on news he read in his morning newspaper (which reported a battleship arriving into Naples harbor carrying the corpse of a sailor), Balla encountered a war widow, who was covered with a dark veil and dressed in black. The impressions of the moment, including the metallic reflections of a cloud that were reminiscent of the shape of a battleship, appear in this painting of the scene, creating a dark, emotional atmosphere.
In 1918, Balla publishes the "Manifesto of Color” in the catalogue of his first solo exhibition at Casa d’arte Bragaglia in Rome. The manifesto promotes a dynamic form of painting that translates a simultaneity of forces in a “blasting painting, a surprising painting” dominated by “an explosion of color”. This exhibition also featured the series of paintings titled “Forze di paesaggio”, which bring together Balla's sense of movement and geometric form with his use of lively, flat, and opaque colors.
Futuristic reconstruction of the universe
This sketch shows the plastic scenography designed by Balla for the ballet Feu d’artifice by Igor Stravinskij. He was commissioned for the design in December 1916 by the famous producer of Russian Ballets, Sergej Djagilev. On the stage, real dancers are substituted by a dynamic movement of colored and intermittent light beams, which light up solid, geometric forms with aggressively pointed shapes. The set was built in wood and covered in silver sheets, satin and brightly-colored paper.
In 1915, Balla and Depero signed the Manifesto of the Futuristic Reconstruction of the Universe, which theorized the external word and involved objects and environments from daily life. In 1904, with the birth of his first daughter, Luce, Balla begins drawing and producing furniture for their house. The bedroom was designed for his second daughter, Elica, around 1914, and it features bright colors and round corners to prevent her getting hurt. The closet has the sketched figure of a child on its sides, giving it a playful look.
This Futurist flower is part of a series of modeled wood sculptures that Balla created for his own house in Rome in the 1920s. In his way, his house was to become an artificial garden of flowers with sparkling corollas and astonishing leafs, cheerful and brightly colored, all with sinuous and sharpened edges, which aimed at evoking synthetic images of natural vegetation.
Balla believed in the importance of lifelong play, for adults to remain “young, agile, cheerful, casual, ready for everything, restless, instinctive and intuitive”. This is shown in Balla's playful, lively and imaginative decorations featuring exotic animals, which take inspiration from traditional tapestry techniques.
Balla has chosen the numbers 3,4,5 and 8 as the subjects of this Constructivist painting: the definite numbers, the precision of the shapes, the dynamic perspective and the glazed and metallic colors are an ode to modernity and the mechanical universe, but still preserves a sense of imagination and magic, which is also reinforced in the artwork's title.
Mart, Museum of modern and contemporary art of Trento and Rovereto
And all the private collectors who wish to remain anonymous