Art Event notes: learn about the artwork shown on Italian 20p coins.
Review of “Unique Forms of Continuity in Space” curator talk by Rosalind McKever.
Thu, 21 February 2019 @Italian Cultural Institute
Unique Forms of Continuity in Space
by Rosalind McKever, a curator at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London and art historian specialised in modern Italian art. Her exhibition Boccioni: Continuity in Space is on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art at the University of São Paulo.
I made it to Rosalind McKever’s great talk about “Unique Forms of Continuity in Space” to learn more about the singular story of the amazing artwork I see so often in my purse when I have the chance to work on projects in Italy.
The event’s description promised to uncover lots of little secrets so I was very excited. I must disclose that I’m a fangirl of Rosalind McKever (and all these amazing art pro who reach incredibly high-level positions but remain able to talk about art in plain English instead of using some pretentious artsy jargon).
Umberto Boccioni’s 1913 sculpture Unique Forms of Continuity in Space is one of the most iconic artworks of the twentieth century. The fame of this Futurist masterpiece within Italy, where it appears on the 20-cent coin, has spread worldwide thanks to bronze casts in museums from Tate Modern to the Museum of Modern Art. This talk tells the remarkable story of who saved Boccioni’s original plaster when most of his sculptures were destroyed after his death, how it came to be in Brazil, and why an artist who argued against traditional materials, became internationally famous for a sculpture in bronze.
Here is what you need to know:
- The original piece is stuck in Brazil at the Museum of the University of San Paolo because it’s way too fragile to travel 🏛️ Boccioni, like many other futurists, was up for experimentation with unusual materials so the original version is made of plaster.
- In 1913, in Milan, Futurists are not well seen at all 👽 Boccioni is one of them and he gets obsessed with sculptures even though he’s not formally trained and hope to push the exploration of materials.
nb: Working with plaster in the early 20th century is pretty radical!
- It went through so many scandals! For Example, La Medusa (art Gallery dealing some of the other editions made later on) claimed that it wasn’t the original. So they had to scan the plaster and compare it to early editions. Long story short, they argued a lot and measured everything and eventually concluded that it is the original 🎊
nb: Apart from Duchamp’s ⛲️ it’s the modern artwork that got replicated the most — In 40 years, we end up with 17 versions of the pieces which have extensively traveled contributing to its iconicity 💎
What the work is about 🏃♂️🌫
transition of liquid into solid
Show motion by synthesis the mouvement in one unique form
Air around the body is a form itself
Every side suggests fluid motions
You really get a feeling of movement when going around it
It’s probably the closest to abstraction we can get to while remaining figurative and that’s partly why it’s so special
- 🎖Unique forms became a hit from the very beginning and Boccioni acknowledges it as its masterpiece. But he died young (at 33) and with no heir. So Marinetti (an influent art guy at the time who loved his work) decided to look after his legacy
- Most of his works got sent to his mother and sold to sustain the family but Unique Forms was on show in Milan and very difficult to move so the story goes that Marionette saved it from going to the bin 🗑
Some crazy stories we know are bullshits 🐂💩:
Unique Forms was thrown outside by the curators after the show and it 🌧 so it got partially distroyed (it’s made of plaster remember?)
Unique forms fell into Milan’s canals when they were transporting it after the show and Marinetti dived in to rescue it
- In the ’30s, Unique Forms has traveled a lot thanks to Marionetti 🧳 Rome Milan Paris Rome Milan etc… So, the work is cast in metal, even though Boccioni was strictly against bronze and other traditional materials during his lifetime. But to keep the legacy of his dear friend alive, Marinetti started by making 4 casts of Unique Forms (1 was, of course, for himself 🎁)
- And they didn’t stop here! Bronze casts were easier to travel with. And they really kept on travelling A LOT!
nb: The different edition of the cast are all made of different kind of metals and most of them were particularly unethically cast — as the saying goes “when the artist is dead, people do whatever they want to” 😉
My Favourite Stories:
We’re going to the States baby!
After the weird casting situation, the work finally had shows planned in the USA 🇺🇸 — But when it arrived, customs declared that it couldn’t possibly be a piece of art (“I mean look at it — this dude’s got no arms” was probably said at least once) and that it was a fraudulent way to import metal without paying taxes on it (art import was free of taxes but metal wasn’t) 🙅♀️🖼 So Marinetti had to pay the taxes in the end to make it to the shows he had planed
A happy chaos!
Anyone who works in the arts world or who once arrived 10min early at a gallery opening knows that, behind the curtains, lots of plot twists happen and things can be a little messy sometimes. As we can see on the picture below Unique Forms made it to the 5th Venice biennale! But it’s in the middle of a pavilion full of modernist tapestries so it is fair to assume that it was a last minute edition to the Biennale 🏃♂️🏃♀️and how mad the curators must have been when they were told to find a last-minute place for this little gem 💎
Lise Arlot, Co-founder & Art Director Feral Horses 🏺🖼️➡️🧑🤝🧑➡️🏛️🎉
I source and place thought-provoking artworks that are co-owned by hundreds of people in art institutions.
👀Watch the inauguration of our latest museum loan here