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This report is taken from PN Review 54, Volume 13 Number 4, March - April 1987.

Report from Venice James Malpas
'Sccrabaraang!' 'Zang! Tumb! Tumb!'

Marinetti's 'words-in-liberty' were set free on tee-shirts and posters this Summer to advertise the Futurist exhibition at the Palazzo Grassi. It was not clear how many understood that the onomatopoeia they wore represented gunfire and cannonades experienced by the gleeful bellicose poet in his role as war-correspondent in the Balkans in 1912.

It is also ironic that it should be Venice that put on such a grandiose display of Futurism, since it was excoriated by Marinetti as the 'passeist' city par excellence, fit only for interment: we are all passeists now . . .

The exhibition ranges wide, bearing report from Mexico, Russia, the USA and taking up the entire palace to do so. The movement had adherents in most areas of Europe, notably radical Catalonia. It is the British room that is the most impressive visually - though few of the contributors are strictly Britons. The professionalism of William Roberts, Wyndham Lewis (whose 'A battery shelled' depicts war more convincingly than Marinetti's infantile impressions), Epstein and Gaudier-Breszka quite eludes the melodramatic circle Marinetti forced through its mediocre paces.

Precursors and fellow-travellers are generously included; D'Annunzio's reptilian features and bald head loom in crepuscular ugliness from stiffly-posed photographs of 'the Great Man' variety, Munch's paintings set a standard of smouldering hysteria unmatched in succeeding rooms and tangential serendipities abound such as the lone Franz Marc painting and Duchamp's Nude Descending a staircase. Portraits of the egomaniac Marinetti are curiously ...


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