If we were to imagine the Italian Futurist movement as a train – after all, as an heir to Symbolism it was madly in love with speed and modernity – the Grand Hotel Majestic “già Baglioni” in Bologna would be a station to stop at. Today we climb aboard that train, which one night in 1914 travelled through the hotel basement, driven by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, the poet who founded Futurism.
Bologna, a cradle of Futurism
Today we call it the Belle Epoque. But they were frenzied years, brusquely interrupted by the Great War, especially in Bologna
, a city of great ferment and initiative. Like the movement itself, Futurism’s
explosive programmatic Manifesto
, written by Tommaso Filippo Marinetti
himself, caused a sensation when it appeared in Le Figaro on February 20 1909. But not everybody knows that it was published first in Bologna, on February 5 in the city’s Gazzetta dell’Emilia
(the offices moved to Modena in 1911), then hot on its heels in other Italian newspapers. A flurry of iconoclastic, bellicose energy
blew through the city, bucking the trend of the local cultural associations. The group that gathered around Marinetti were all the rage, having their say everywhere, sparking controversies and creating confusion. Newspaper reports from the time speak of scuffles in which rotten vegetables and eggs were thrown and brawls sparked by the Futurists’
impromptu forays. This happened, for example, outside the Caffè San Pietro
in Via Indipendenza, a stone’s throw from the Majestic – then known as the Baglioni – and at the Teatro del Corso
, the theatre in Via Santo Stefano, two places that have survived to this day. The moment everyone had been waiting for came in 1914, when all the energy was channelled into an exhibition, the first public showcase for artists from Bologna and the surrounding Emilia region
who were close to the movement. Given that Futurism had declared war on tradition and the establishment, there was no way that the show was going to be conventional. It had to reflect the ideals set out by maître à penser Marinetti. Organised at a non-institutional venue unconnected with the Accademia, it turned out to be a blitz.
A “white night” ahead of its time
So where was the Futurist exhibition
held? Why, in Marinetti’s home from home in Bologna
, of course: at the Grand Hotel Baglioni
, as it was known at the time, which had been opened on February 15 1912. Every time he was in town – which was pretty often, judging from the hotel’s registers – the famous cultural agitator would stay here, the most luxurious, prestigious hotel available. He wasn’t the only one: Francesco Balilla Pratella
, Umberto Boccioni
, Luigi Russolo
and Giacomo Balla
were also regular guests.
Returning to the historic “white night” between March 20 and 21 1914
, on that occasion more than 500 paying visitors packed into the hotel basement. They came to admire 50 or so works by five artists, fellow students at the Accademia di Belle Arti, the oldest of whom was 25. They were the already celebrated Giorgio Morandi,
Severo Pozzati – who under the pseudonym of Sepo
was to become one of the most famous poster designers of the first half of the twentieth century – Osvaldo Licini
and Mario Bacchelli
, among the most important painters of their generation, and Giacomo Vespignani, nicknamed “Babaza” and “L'antipratico”, a leading painter and potter. On the night of the inauguration, Carlo Carrà, Umberto Boccioni and Luigi Russolo were also called in by the Futurist musical theorist Francesco Balilla Pratella to lend their support.
Not everyone grasped the spirit of the initiative, but the exhibition caused quite a stir, nonetheless. The local daily newspaper Il Resto del Carlino got its artistic schools mixed up and were later to speak of the “secessionists of the Baglioni”. There was no catalogue for the exhibition and many of the works have been lost. But the happening entered the history of art and allowed the artists on show to make a name for themselves. In modern parlance it was what we would call a successful marketing operation.