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the red-hot poker of joy

May 31, 2009

[Times] On February 20, 1909, the readers of the Paris newspaper Le Figaro were treated to an ecstatically positive account of a car crash. The writer described how he and his friends had talked late into the night, then decided to go for a drive at dawn. First, they admired their cars with sensual passion: “We went up to the three snorting machines to caress their breasts.” Then they drove off wildly into the streets, shouting: “Let us leave good sense behind like a hideous husk!” At that point, two bicycles tottered into the writer’s path, and to avoid them he swerved into a ditch. But as he raised himself, mud-spattered and smelly, he felt “the red-hot poker of joy deliciously pierce” his heart.

This tongue-in-cheek anecdote served as introduction to one of the most influential utterances in the history of modern art, the first Futurist Manifesto. The writer was a 32-year-old Italian poet, ideologue and self-publicist named Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876-1944). Born and raised in Alexandria, where the family fortune allegedly came from running brothels, he was a powerful personality in search of a cause. Marinetti emerged from that ditch, it seems, believing that he had found it: he would be the apostle of a new age of velocity and aggression.

So, appropriately in some ways, a road accident served to launch the most grandiloquent, silly, funny and self-conscious of artistic movements: Futurism. It is the subject of a comprehensive exhibition at Tate Modern this summer. (read)

Futurism, June 12 – September 20, 2009
Tate Modern, London

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