Laura Gascoigne

Keeping the faith

In 1929 the founder of Italian Futurism, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, reported from Milan that, after a wartime setback, the movement was ‘in full working order’ under the leadership of ‘the very young and very ingenious Bruno Munari’.

Bruno Munari (1907–1998) was 22 at the time. He had arrived in Milan two years earlier as a refugee from his family hotel business in the Veneto and embraced with enthusiasm Giacomo Balla’s suggestion in The Futurist Universe that ‘useful and pleasing’ consumer products in shop windows were ‘a much more rewarding sight than the grimy little pictures nailed on the walls of the passéist painter’s studio’. Although he was only active in the movement for three years — a period he later dismissed as ‘my Futurist past’ — he kept the faith. When other Futurists slunk back to passéist painting, the ingenious Munari kept his focus fixed on Futurism’s original dilemma: how to express the dynamism of the machine age in art.

Bruno Munari: My Futurist Past is the Estorick Collection’s charming, if belated, introduction of this little-known artist to British audiences. For despite a string of avant-garde claims to fame — as a pioneer of kinetic art, installation and video projection — Munari remains a rather well-kept secret, largely thanks to a taste for throw-away materials that led to much of his best work being thrown away. In those far-off days, commercial galleries hadn’t yet mastered the art of selling low-cost goods at high prices, and Munari’s Blue Peter aesthetic failed to find a market. While his paintings were preserved, his surviving sculptures are mostly ‘ones he made later’ in limited editions. On the plus side, his inability to make a living from fine art channelled his creative talents in commercial directions, making him the prototype of the modern multidisciplinary artist.

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