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Bird in Motion

Fortunato Depero

Portrait of Fortunato Depero

The heartbreaking sincerity of genius

The work of Fortunato Depero is an uncomfortable and alien thing to encounter in our post-modern, post-pandemic world. The Italian Futurist used right happy, primary colors to illustrate glossy robotic figures in tilting cityscapes. He worked across every conceivable medium—paintings, posters, graphic design, costume design, toys. He dreamt of building a museum, and in its stead carried around a massive book documenting his technicolor visions. Forever energetic, childlike and fun, Depero’s work feels like the product of an alternative universe for its heartbreaking sincerity.

Fortunato Depero was born in 1892 and raised in Rovereto, a beautiful river town ringed by mountains in northern Italy’s Lagarina Valley. He studied applied arts at the Scuola Reale Elisabettina, or Royal Elizabeth School, and at eighteen was apprenticed to a marble worker. A few years later, on a trip to Florence, Depero stumbled across one of the first issues of the Futurist literary magazine Lacerba. The young artist lit like dynamite. Thrilled at the prospect of a new Italian aesthetic, Depero got in touch with the editors of Lacerba and began experimenting in the nascent futurist style. He moved to Rome the same year, in December of 1913, twenty-one years old and broke.

The right place at the right time

But Depero got lucky—one of his first stops in Rome, was a show of work by Umberto Boccioni at the Galleria Sprovieri, where he met Giacomo Balla. Balla was already an established force in the avant garde, having signed the first Futurist Manifesto in 1910 and painted his famous Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash in 1912. Depero’s enthusiasm must have impressed Balla, who invited the young artist to live with him and his wife. The two became long-time friends, and Balla soon introduced Depero to a cadre of Futurist luminaries including Marinetti, Luigi Russolo, and Cangiullo and helped get Depero’s artwork shown at the Sprovieri Gallery.

In true futurist fashion, the pinnacle of the Balla-Depero collaboration was a manifesto—the Ricostruzione futurista dell’universo, or Futurist Reconstruction of the Universe. In it, the two artists acknowledge the intellectual and artistic successes of the Futurist movement, but call for something infinitely more grand—total transformation of the trappings of modern society, from graphic design to children’s toys, into futurist art objects: “total fusion in order to reconstruct the universe making it more joyful...by a complete re-creation.” An audacious, even naive call to action, but Depero immediately set to work to make it a reality.

Reed Enger, "Fortunato Depero, The heartbreaking sincerity of genius," in Obelisk Art History, Published August 16, 2021; last modified August 16, 2021, http://arthistoryproject.com/artists/fortunato-depero/.

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