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Futurism and Fascism

Italy's Futurists - led by Filippo Marinetti - exploded onto the European cultural scene during and after the Great War with all the garishness and fizz of some of their founder's anarchic recipes. But was the menu taken up by Mussolini and his Fascists? Richard Jensen investigates.

It is particularly appropriate to re-examine the relationship between the rise of Fascism and the literary and artistic movement called Futurism, because in the last decade Futurism has once again been in the news. In 1986 the Italian car manufacturing giant FIAT together with an American high-tech conglomerate sponsored the largest and most comprehensive exhibition on Futurism ever mounted.

The renovated Palazzo Grassi in Venice groaned under the weight of 300 paintings and 1,200 other works, including a magnificent Bugatti automobile, all purportedly related to Futurism and its 'influence'.

So massive was this exhibition that the catalogue was said to weigh as much as a bomb. Henry Kissinger, the Aga Khan, Mme. Pompidou and other assorted luminaries came to see the show, as well as to lunch on such Futurist recipes as orange rice and lobster with green zabaglione sauce. Avoided were the more radical dishes to be found in Filippo Marinetti's 1931 Futurist cookbook, such as salami immersed in a bath hot black coffee flavoured with eau-de-Cologne or, for dessert, fresh pineapple with sardines.

With all the hoopla, it was easy to overlook the disturbing fact that Italy's most famous art movement of modern times was intimately involved with Fascism and indeed that Marinetti, Futurism's leading exponent, had helped Mussolini found the movement in 1919. Nonetheless, the stream of publications that has poured forth since the Palazzo Grassi exhibition, including the publication of Marinetti's diary-like notebooks from 1915-1921, has fuelled a new debate over the complex relationship between Futurism and Fascism, and over the nature of pre-Fascist Italian political culture.

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