MANIFESTOS AND MOVEMENTS OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY

 
 
1909 - FUTURISM

On February 20th, 1909, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876-1944) published his Manifesto of Futurism in the French daily Le Figaro. The Italian translation went to print shortly afterwards, under the title The Foundation and Manifesto of Futurism.
Like the Manifesto of the Futurist Painters, signed in 1910 by Giacomo Balla (1871-1958), Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916), Carlo Carrà (1881-1966), Luigi Russolo (1885-1947) and Gino Severini (1983-1966) and Guillaume Apollinaire’s (1880-1918) The Futurist Antitradition, this text proclaimed the need for radical cultural change. They celebrated progress and the dynamic thrill of the modern world, in contrast with the “countless graveyards” of the art of the past, and called for art to be directly involved in life. Their strong drive towards novelty prompted these artists to experiment new styles and new techniques, overcoming the barriers of traditional artistic expressive form in many areas. In painting, for example, this is visible in the multi-materialism of Enrico Prampolini. In their Futurist Reconstruction of the Universe, published in 1915, Giacomo Balla and Fortunato Depero even imagined an art that was all-encompassing, able to pervade every aspect of the life of the modern man.

 
 

1912 – BLUE RIDER

Together with the Fauves in France and Die Brücke in Germany, the Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider) group founded in Munich in 1911 by Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) and Franz Marc (1880-1916) was among the expressionist currents that matured in Europe in the early years of the Twentieth Century.
The Blaue Reiter artists, who together with Kandinsky and Marc included Paul Klee, August Macke, Alexej von Jawlensky and Marianne von Werefkin, did not draw up a manifesto as such. They entrusted their considerations regarding art instead to an Almanac, published in a single issue in 1912. By contrast with the positivist thinking that had influenced some impressionist and neo-impressionist painting, in their works these artists strove to convey both the appearance of the outside world and its innermost spirit, as perceived through the prism of their individual sensitivities.
Prompted by Kandinsky’s reflections on art theory, the group took an interest in those aspects of the natural world that were able to uplift mankind out of its purely terrestrial dimension, towards a more spiritual horizon.

 
 

1914 - VORTICISM

The programmatic text of the British artistic movement known as Vorticism was published by Wyndham Lewis (1884-1957) in the first issue of BLAST magazine in June 1914, titled simply Manifesto.
The text began with a sequence of twenty pages, with a dynamic graphic layout, listing all that Vorticism hated and loved divided under the headings “BLAST” and “BLESS”. The same juxtaposition (“destruction” / “construction”) had been used a year previously by Guillaume Apollinaire in his The Futurist Antitradition manifesto.
Lewis’ text was, however, in disagreement with Futurism and with Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, notwithstanding the fact that Lewis had initially adhered to Marinetti’s ideas after they met in London in 1910. Vorticism opposed the heritage of the past and the illusions of the future – and therefore also Futurism, accused of romantic and aspirational tendencies. The movement celebrated the vitality of the present, together with the vigorous feeling of being “crossed” by the world’s crude, vital energy.

 
 

1916 - SUPREMATISM

Founded by Russian painter Kazimir Malevich (1878-1935), other members of Suprematism included Olga Rozanova (1886-1918) and Aleksandr Rodchenko (1891-1956).
Together with Constructivism, it ranks as one of the two principal Russian avant-garde artistic currents.
Published by Malevich in 1916 (almost exhibited the previous year), the Suprematism Manifesto enshrines the principles that inspired the movement and stands as one of the first organic theories on abstract art.
Malevich urged all artists to create works that were free of any reference to reality or nature, able to exist in the world as “living objects” in their own right. Squares, triangles, circles, the most basic geometrical shapes inherited from cubist painting were – for Malevich – the necessary tools for expressing “the supremacy of pure sensitivity”.

 
 

1918 - DADA

The Dada movement was founded in Zurich in 1916 by a group of writers, poets and artists that included Tristan Tzara (1896-1963) and Richard Huelsenbeck (1892-1974).
For a variety of reasons, the group’s members were all in Switzerland at the outbreak of the First World War.
The movement quickly spread to cities in Northern Europe (Berlin, Cologne, Hanover) and to the United States, where Marcel Duchamp, Francis Picabia (1879-1953) and Man Ray had been since around 1915.
At the end of the war, in 1919, the epicentre of the movement shifted to Paris, where it was joined by André Breton (1896- 1966), Louis Aragon (1897-1982), Philippe Soupault (1897-1990) and Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes (1894-1974).
Unlike the other earlytwentieth century avant-garde movements, all of which advocated change or an involvement of art in society, Dada promoted all-round confrontation – against society and everything it produces, against intellect and the monstrosities it generates. With regards to art, Dada rejected any possible established aesthetic system of values.
Dada artists resorted to provocation, randomness and a contamination of expressive forms to challenge any logic or rational concept.

 
 

1919 - MERZ

Close to the Dada group on account of his friendship with Tristan Tzara and Hans Arp, German artist Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948) developed his personal form of artistic research which he named Merz (a meaningless word taken from a fragment of one of his collages).
Like Dada artists, Schwitters considered chance to be the principal factor in the creation of an artwork. His object-paintings are an assembly of everything he happened to have in sight or within reach.
Unlike the collages created by the cubists, in which fragments from the real world were combined in a studied composition, the objects gathered by Schwitters (bus tickets, pieces of string, bottle tops, buttons, pieces of wood, newspaper cuttings…) were jumbled together haphazardly in his compositions.
Even his more ambitious projects such as the Merzbau (an entire room built in the 1910s in his family home in Hanover) were an amassment of “lived” objects arranged not according to any logic but rather as the reflection of the intricate unfolding of an entire existence.

 
 

1920 - CONSTRUCTIVISM

Under the guidance of Vladimir Tatlin, Constructivism as a movement emerged in Russia shortly before the October Revolution. It would not be long before two different factions developed within the movement.
On the one hand Tatlin, together with the artists and intellectuals of the LEF journal (Left Front of the Arts), condemned art for art’s sake as a product of capitalist society.
They believed the artist’s only task was to “construct” a revolutionary art that served the masses through its engagement in printing, architecture and industrial production.
A different view was taken by brothers Naum Gabo (1890-1977) and Anton Pevsner (1884-1962), who in 1920 published The Realistic Manifesto in Moscow to distance themselves from the strongly ideological imprint Tatlin had given the movement.
They believed that art should not be useful to people within society but that it should help provide a contact with the profound essence of reality and its supporting structures. The dynamic shapes sculpted by Gabo and Pevsner are an attempt to convey these abstract structures developing in space and time.

 
 

1921 - STRIDENTISM

Founded in 1921 by poet Manuel Maples Arce (1898-1981), Stridentism was the first avant-garde Mexican movement to involve literature, art and music, and the first to achieve international resonance.
In line with the declamatory style typically used in futurist manifestos – to which Stridentism in part referred – the founding text of the movement written by Arce contained the exclamation “To the electric chair with Chopin!”.
He attacked the art of the past and all the best-known Mexican intellectuals of the time, urging for the culture of the classics to be replaced by a culture of speed and modernity, whilst exalting progress in the field of technology and machines.

 
 

1921 - CREATIONISM

Creationism was a literary movement founded by Chilean poet Vicente Huidobro (1893-1948).
While in Paris, Huidobro had been a friend of some of the leading poets of the French avant-garde, including Guillaume Apollinaire, Tristan Tzara and Pierre Reverdy.
After launching the journal Creación in Madrid in 1921, which printed works by Pablo Picasso, Juan Gris and George Braque, Huidobro outlined his “creationism” theories during a series of conferences across Europe in 1921 and 1922.
Whilst reiterating a number of themes dear to European avant-garde movements, Huidobro heralded the birth of a new age of “creation” in art and the death of imitation of natural forms – with the strength of a demiurge, the artist should “create a poem just as Nature creates a tree”.

 
 

1924 - SURREALISM

The surrealist movement was born in the 1920s out of the literary journal Littérature, founded in Paris by Louis Aragon (1897-1982), André Breton (1896-1966) and Philippe Soupault (1897-1990).
This group of writers had initially adhered to the Dada movement, supporting its all-out assault on established aesthetic systems, but soon became increasingly interested in the irrational and the subconscious – largely thanks to Breton, who had eagerly studied the psychoanalytical theories elaborated by Sigmund Freud.
In the Manifesto of Surrealism published in 1924, Breton acclaimed freedom of imagination and the dream world – which Freud had analysed at length – in opposition to the “realm of logic”, which governs the conscious sphere of our lives.
He argued that dreaming was the ideal state of being for all mankind, and that literature and art were the most suitable vehicles for recording in images the unlimited contents of the psyche. Surrealism is “psychic automatism in its pure state”, explained Breton, “dictated by thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason”.

 
 

1932 - JOHN REED CLUB

The John Reed Club of New York was founded in October 1929 by a group of staff members from the Marxist journal New Masses, with the intention of supporting the activities of avant-garde writers, artists, musicians and intellectuals during the Great Depression.
The organisation was named after American journalist and political activist John Reed (1887-1920), who had been an eyewitness of the 1917 October Revolution headed by Lenin in Russia and which he described in his well-known chronicle entitled Ten Days That Shook the World (1919).
The organisation published its manifesto in June 1932, drawing on the principles of the 1848 Manifesto of the Communist Party by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.
In its manifesto the John Reed Club announced the crisis of the capitalist system and bourgeois art, calling on artists and intellectuals with an awareness of the problems afflicting the working classes to unite, and underlining the necessity that art take a firm stand in the conflicts presented by history.

 
 

1946 - SPATIALISM

Spatialism was founded in Milan by Lucio Fontana (1899-1968) in 1947, with the publication of the group’s first manifesto.
Fontana had laid down the principles of spatial art already the previous year, in the White Manifesto, drafted together with three young artists and seven students from the Altamira arts academy he had started in Buenos Aires.
The text professed the need for an entirely new art form, to overthrow traditional concepts of painting, sculpture, poetry and music. In an age of technological discovery, with even space exploration now a tangible reality, “man is becoming less and less responsive to fixed, motionless images”.
Fontana and the other spatialist artists believed that the creative action should necessarily come to terms with this new dimension, boundless and in perpetual movement. They should consider it a living entity, made of energy and matter, in which to carry out their actions.
Colour, space, sound, time, movement – these were all the expressive elements it was advisable to use when operating in this new psycho-physical reality, a dimension that enveloped the artwork and to which Fontana alluded in his Ambiente spaziale a luce nera, realized in 1949, as well as in the ‘punctured’ canvas series he began the same year.

 
 

1948 - ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISM

The term “abstract expressionism” was used after the Second World War to define the work of a diverse group of artists active in the United States. Among those included in this classification were Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, Barnett Newman, Kenneth Noland, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko.
Despite differences in their individual artistic research, the work of all these artists shared a marked propensity towards innovation in nonfigurative art – Pollock’s invention of the “dripping” technique being a case in point – together with a strongly expressive intensity.
This was achieved thanks to the intense gestures they used while working, together with their chosen colour palette and the large scale of many of their pieces.
According to Barnett Newman (1905-1970), a member of the current known as Color Field Painting which developed within Abstract Expressionism, the artistic research of these artists – and indeed of all modern art – was directed at demolishing the old canons of beauty and breaking free of the images of the past, made up of “figures and objects”.
In his 1948 manifesto The Sublime is Now, Newman argued that avant-garde art should return to expressing “man’s natural desire for the exalted, for a concern with our relationship to the absolute emotions”.

 
 

1960 - SITUATIONISM

“Our art is the art of a revolutionary period, simultaneously the reaction of a world that going under and the herald of a new era”, wrote Dutch artist Constant Nieuwenhuys – better known as Constant (1920-2005) – in 1948.
It was precisely this desire to create a “new and fantastical way of seeing” that prompted Constant to adhere in 1957 to the Situationist International, a radical group of artists and intellectuals led by French philosopher Guy Debord (1931-1994).
The movement’s manifesto, published in June 1960, proclaimed art’s need for a “new kind of action”. Situationist art should therefore be interactive, generating “situations” and moments to be lived tangibly and express itself through collectively shared actions.
On no account must there remain any physical trace of the artwork, which would inevitably be commercialised. Through their happenings and performances, situationist artists traced a relation between the sphere of art and that of life, much in the manner of Fluxus.
Over the years the movement became increasingly politicised, a radical critic of the system and precursor of the protest that led to the 1968 student uprisings.

 
 

1961 – POP ART

American Pop Art was not a movement with its own manifesto or group activities. As a term it achieved immediate and widespread international resonance, covering a range of different forms of artistic research that sprung up in the so-called industrialised world, with which Pop Art was ultimately identified.
The current began in the very early 1960s, in the work of a generation that had witnessed the slow decline in innovative drive of Informal art and Abstract Expressionism.
In Great Britain the earliest debates on whether popular culture should be admitted to the art world took place within the Independent Group, an organisation of artists which met at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London from the winter of 1952 onwards.
In the United States, where it gained the firmest foothold, the phenomenon of Pop Art was spearheaded by Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns and Jim Dine. In their wake, artists such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Tom Wesselmann, James Rosenquist and Claes Oldenburg (1929) focused their attention on the real world surrounding them.
Their work featured the urban context in which they lived, with its mass-produced commodities consumed by the masses. The only subjects of their works were fragments of a reality shared by millions, made up of toothpaste tubes, cans of soup, comic strips or shots of film stars.
Oldenburg summed up this new and radical approach to life that defined the Pop Art expression particularly well in 1961, with the phrase “I am for an art that imitates the human”.

 
 

1963 - FLUXUS

Fluxus was officially born in 1962 during the Fluxus Internationale Festspiele Neuester Musik organised at Wiesbaden in Germany by George Maciunas (1931-1978).
The movement quickly spread throughout Europe and the United States. Among those artists who adhered to it were Joseph Beuys, Nam June Paik, La Monte Young, Yoko Ono, Emmett Williams (1925-2007), Philip Corner (1933), Dick Higgins (1938-1998), Allen Bukoff (1951), Larry Miller (1944), Eric Andersen (1940), Tomas Schmit (1943-2006), Ben Vautier (1935).
In Italy its most prominent followers were Giuseppe Chiari and Gian Emilio Simonetti. All were united in the same, profound conviction that “life is an artwork and the artwork is life”.
In line with the philosophy of the movement’s two spiritual fathers – Marcel Duchamp with his ready-made objects and John Cage (1912-1992) with his radical improvisations in music – the artistic action must overflow into the flux of daily life, and daily life into the artistic sphere.
To create their particular form of “living art”, Fluxus artists employed video, happenings, performances, concerts or shows, exploiting the “intermediary” nature of these mediums – different stimuli existing simultaneously: actions, images, objects, sounds, words and music.

 
 

1965 – MINIMALISM

Minimalism developed in the mid-1960s. The term “minimal art” was coined in 1965 by British philosopher Richard Wollheim in an article featured in Arts Magazine, and was applied to the work of artists – mostly active in the United States – that differed widely: sculptors such as Donald Judd, Robert Morris and Carl Andre, painters such as Stella, Robert Ryman, Agnes Martin, Robert Mangold, Richard Tuttle and Richard Nonas, as well as composers and performers like Philip Glass and Yvonne Rainer (1934).
In 1966 the current gained international attention thanks to the Primary Structures show held at the Jewish Museum of New York.
Although individual approaches differed widely from artist to artist, minimalist works were commonly characterised by a pared-down emotional and formal content. Paintings and sculptures were generally made up of figures or geometric volumes, elementary units with simple forms.
In sculpture, these elements were obtained using industrially-produced raw materials, left in their original colour. In paintings, the colours were unsaturated. The various sections of a work were usually ordered in serial sequences, according to precise patterns that were repeated with no spatial hierarchy (such as that generally commanded by the centre or sides of a work, or from top to bottom).
By masking the artist’s involvement in a work as much as possible, these pieces revealed to the viewer only the essential elements of artistic expression – form, colour, space and rhythm, and the workings of their interdependent significance – akin to approach to artistic research that is typical of all conceptual art.

 
 

1967 – CONCEPTUAL ART

The term “conceptual art” came into use in the mid-1960s. On one hand it was used to define a variety of research that had sprung up in those years, all of which displayed a strongly analytical approach to artistic expression, such as that of Sol LeWitt (1928-2007), Joseph Kosuth, Lawrence Weiner and the British group Art & Language.
On the other hand, the term immediately gained a much broader meaning, encompassing all those episodes of “dematerialised” art in which – as Sol LeWitt described in his Paragraphs on Conceptual Art (1967), which are considered the initial reference texts for this new artistic current – “the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work”.
Following in the wake of Marcel Duchamp’s radical ready-mades from the beginning of the Twentieth Century, in Conceptual Art the idea or action that an artist decided to carry out became the central nucleus of the work, without these necessarily having to result in a traditional art object such as a painting or a sculpture.
Conceptual can therefore be applied the work of countless artists, including that of two American female artists both with a keen awareness of feminist issues: Elaine Sturtevant (1924-2014) and Adrian Piper (1948).

 
 


 
 

PERFORMANCE

Terms such as “happening”, “performance” or “action” have been applied to a broad spectrum of artistic research.
In practice they qualify a new art form, which developed in the 1960s alongside traditional mediums such as painting, sculpture, film or theatre.
Generally speaking, these terms indicate the radical process by which art stepped out of its traditional boundaries. A work was no longer an object but an event, in which the physical presence of the artist was the medium of the work and the spectators an essential element of its completion.
Performance was the final chapter in a progression that spanned the entire Twentieth Century, gradually bringing the time and space dimension of art to coincide with that of real life. The futurists and dadaists were the first to stage their outrageous art performances in front of an audience.
After the Second World War, the musical performances of John Cage paved the way for performance to become the principal expressive means of several American artists, such as Allan Kaprow (who coined the term “happening”), Jim Dine, Red Grooms, Claes Oldenburg and Robert Whitman, as well as for the situationists and members of Fluxus.
Performance art enjoyed widespread international popularity throughout the 1970s and still today ranks as one of the preferred means of expression for many artists, be it in different forms.
Among the many figures active in this artistic field, Mierle Laderman Ukeles (1939) is an American artist who took the synthesis of art and life to the extreme when she transformed her private life as a woman and a mother into the embodiment of the principles of her Maintenance Art. In her performance she went about the “caring” or “maintenance” everyday household chores generally allocated to women by social convention.

 
 

ARCHITECTURE

Ever since the publication in 1914 of the Manifesto of Futurist Architecture by Antonio Sant’Elia (1888-1916), architecture – together with all the plastic arts, music, film and theatre – entered into the avant-garde, urging for the abandonment of past forms in favour of embracing spaces that were new and better suited to the needs of contemporary mankind.
Sant’Elia called for a modern city “like an immense and tumultuous shipyard”, as opposed to the cathedrals and monumental palazzi of the past. Just a few years later, Bruno Taut (1880-1938) would criticise the excessive ornamentation of Art Nouveau architecture and yearn for homes that were simple and comfortable, for a transparent, clear world.
In 1966 Robert Venturi (1925-2018) favoured an architecture that was able to profit from the climate of complexity and contradiction common to all the sciences and arts of the post-modern era.
The Coop Himmelb(l)au collective founded in Vienna in 1968, on the other hand, conceived for the contemporary world an architecture that blaze and whirls, in which – in line with the “deconstructivist” aesthetic – all kinds of traditional composition was intentionally fragmented and broken up, aided also by fresh progress made in the field of engineering.
“I am at war with my time, with history, with all authority that resides in fixed and frightened forms”, wrote the architect Lebbeus Woods (1940-2012) in his Manifesto summing up well the mindset of all avant-garde artists.

 
 

CINEMA

The earliest experimentations in film coincided with the spread of avant-garde thought at the beginning of the Twentieth Century.
The Manifesto of Futurist Film-making published in 1916 recognised film as the futurist art form par excellence on account of the inherently dynamic nature of its language, perfectly suited to conveying the speed of modern living.
This dynamism and the expressive power of objects in movement were celebrated also in We: Variant of a Manifesto written by Russian director and founder of the Kinoglaz movement Dziga Vertov (1896-1954) in 1922.
As in other art forms, some film-makers felt the need to enshrine their aesthetic, expressive – and at times ideological – considerations in film theory treatises or manifestos, as a means of leaving a clear trace of their personal take on the medium.
For Stan Brakhage (1933-2003), for example, film should be memorable for its blatant experimentation and its dreamy, psychedelic moods.
Lars von Trier (1956) and Thomas Vinterberg (1969) displayed an attention to objectivity that verges on the alienating, while Werner Herzog (1942) believed in a suspension between reality and fiction.
As with painting, sculpture or theatre, the strength of these visions has been gauged by their power to challenge what came before them and offer an alternative angle on reality.