Words in Freedom: Futurism at 100


The “Manifesto of Futurism,” written by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and published on the front page of the French newspaper Le Figaro on February 20, 1909, proclaimed the burning desire of the author and his fellow Futurists to abandon the past and embrace the future. Tired of Italy’s reliance on its classical heritage and disdainful of the present, these artists called for a new aesthetic language based on industry, war, and the machine. In addition to their prolific output of drawings, photographs, films, performances, and paintings and sculptures (examples of which are on view in the fifth-floor Painting and Sculpture galleries), the Futurists (1909–1944) published countless manifestos, leaflets, and art and poetry periodicals.

On the one hundredth anniversary of the publication of the “Manifesto of Futurism,” this exhibition explores the ways Futurist artists communicated their concerns to the masses through printed matter. In a rich new language liberated from the bounds of tradition, their poetry and rhetoric addressed topics of broad national and cultural importance, including politics, language, entertainment, and the perception and future of Italian art. Although they have been criticized by some for their aesthetic approach and their politics, the Futurists were and continue to be acclaimed for their uncontainable experiments and challenges to convention, which set the stage for the provocative, interdisciplinary nature of many artistic forms to come.

All items on display are original documents in the Special Collections of The Museum of Modern Art Library, except as noted.

The exhibition is organized by Laura Beiles, Associate Educator, Department of Education.

Checklist and selected images of works included in the exhibition:

The Manifesto

The Futurists wrote countless manifestos and distributed them in cities around the world to communicate their aesthetic, social, and political ideals. Through this entrepreneurial method of mass promotion the artists expressed their ideas about visual art, literature, music, dance, cinema,
politics, and contemporary life, among other subjects. In visual, typographic, verbal, and aural attacks on the academic and bourgeois classes, the past, and the conservative institutions that represented it, the Futurists freed expression from the bounds of tradition and propriety.

F. T. Marinetti. “Manifeste du futurisme” [Manifesto of Futurism]. February 20, 1909

One of the most well-known and representative declarations of this manifesto, first published on February 20, 1909, in the Paris newspaper Le Figaro, is a cornerstone of Futurist thought: “We affirm that the world’s magnificence has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed.”

Umberto Boccioni. “La Pittura futurista: Manifesto tecnico” [Futurist Painting: Technical Manifesto]. Milan: Poesia, April 11, 1910

Francesco Balilla Pratella. “La Musica futurista: Manifesto tecnico” [Futurist Music: Technical Manifesto]. Milan: Poesia, March 11, 1911

Luigi Russolo. “L’Art des bruits” [The Art of Noises]. Milan: Direction du mouvement futuriste, March 11, 1913

Russolo’s manifesto describes the transition from pre-nineteenth-century traditional music to the noise of modern life. Of himself and his Futurist colleagues he writes, “We enjoy creating mental orchestrations of the crashing down of metal shop blinds, slamming doors, the hubbub and shuffling of crowds, the variety of din, from stations, railways, iron foundries spinning wheels, printing works, electric power stations and underground railways.”

Clipping Guillaume Apollinaire. “L’Antitradition futuriste: Manifeste = synthèse” [Futurist Anti-tradition: Manifesto= Synthesis]. Milan: Direction du mouvement futuriste, June 29, 1913

Marinetti neither wrote nor signed this manifesto; however, the poet Apollinaire, who was not a Futurist, succeeded in imitating his tone. Apollinaire had attacked the movement in 1912, and so some critics believed that his manifesto was a hoax. Others were convinced that in this work he truly aimed to liberate the word from syntax, Futurist style.


F. T. Marinetti. “Le Music-Hall: Manifeste futuriste” [The Music Hall: Futurist Manifesto] Milan: Direction du mouvement futuriste, September 29, 1913

The text in this leaflet was later published in the Paris Daily Mail newspaper on November 21, 1913.

F. T. Marinetti. “La Danse futuriste: Danse de l’aviateur—Danse du shrapnell—Danse de la mitrailleuse” [The Futurist Dance: Dance of the Aviator—Dance of Shrapnel—Dance of the Machine Gun]. Milan: Direction du mouvement futuriste, 1917

Umberto Boccioni. “Manifeste technique de la sculpture futuriste” [Technical Manifesto of Futurist Sculpture]. Milan: Direction du mouvement futuriste, April 11, 1912

F. T. Marinetti. “Manifeste technique de la littérature futuriste” [Technical Manifesto of Futurist Literature]. Milan: Direction du mouvement futuriste, May 11, 1912

F. T. Marinetti. “L’Immaginazione senza fili e le parole in libertá: Manifesto futurista” [Imagination without Strings and Words-in-Freedom: Futurist Manifesto]. Milan: Direzione del movimento futurista, May 11, 1913

Carlo Carrá. “La Pittura dei suoni, rumori, odori: Manifesto futurista” [The Painting of Sounds, Noises, Smells: Futurist Manifesto]. Milan: Direzione del movimento futurista,
August 11, 1913

F. T. Marinetti and C. R. W. Nevinson. “Vital English Art: Futurist Manifesto.” 1914

Nevinson, the only English Futurist, coauthored this manifesto with Marinetti. The text was first published in the London Observer newspaper.

Futurist Proclamations: From the Personal to the International Stage

In addition to manifestos, the Futurists self-published books and ran several art and literary journals, magazines, and newspapers. Connecting with artists, writers, and publishers across the globe, they sought to establish their place on the world stage. They also occasionally produced quieter,
personal statements about the movement. This case displays their accounts of war, literature, art, modern life, and theater.

Clipping Umberto Boccioni. “Dall’Impressionismo al futurismo” [From Impressionism to Futurism].
In Dinamo Futurista 3–5 (June 1933)

This issue of Dinamo Futurista, a monthly magazine directed by Fortunato Depero, is dedicated to Boccioni, one of the principal figures of the movement. On the left-hand page Boccioni charts the development of modern art from Impressionism to Futurism, characterizing artists according to how they use and separate color and form. At the bottom of the diagram the Futurists are noted for their ability to synthesize these elements.

F. T. Marinetti. Poesia 3–6, Il Futurismo [Futurism] (April–July 1909)

Marinetti started this poetry journal in 1905, and it follows his trajectory from poet rooted in the Symbolist tradition to exponent of more radical and belligerent expression. The journal was discontinued in 1909, as by then the format and design were considered out of date. Although its cover has a late-nineteenth-century aesthetic, this issue is dedicated to Futurism. It contains the first Futurist manifesto and discusses the spread of Futurism abroad, with excerpts of high praise for the movement from the international press, from New York to Athens to Buenos Aires.

Admittance Card
Clipping Left: Giovanni Papini. Il Mio Futurismo [My Futurism]. Florence: Lacerba, 1914

Papini, one of the founding editors of the art and literary magazine Lacerba, was a poet and journalist. In this book he explores Futurism and modern life.

Enrico Prampolini. “Manifesto della scenografia futurista” [Manifesto of Futurist Scenography]. In Der Futurismus, August 4, 1922

In this text, written in 1915 and published in the German periodical Der Futurismus in 1922, Prampolini calls for a theater of vibrations and luminous forms and colors produced by electric currents and colored gases. Such elements, he writes, can replace actors, evoking new sensations in the spectator. Prampolini was a playwright, director, and painter who designed more than 130 theatrical productions. The image is a bust of the young Futurist poet and playwright Ruggero Vasari.

Words-in-Freedom + Rarefactions – Free Verse = New Futurist Poetry

In 1913 Filippo Tommaso Marinetti published “L’Immaginazione senza fili e le parole in libertá: Manifesto futurista” [Imagination without Strings and Words in Freedom: Futurist Manifesto]. This text describes the impact of “the great discoveries of science,” such as motorized transportation and the printing press, upon the human psyche. Dismissing free verse as passé, it puts forth what would become the Futurists’ poetic tactic of liberating words from syntax and grammatical structure: parole in libertá, or “words-in-freedom.” Deforming and “refleshing” words and incorporating onomatopoeia, mathematical signs, symbols, and the typography made possible by mechanization, Marinetti invented a playful and provocative written language that gave birth to new graphic imagery and sounds. Artist Corrado Govoni explored variations on words-in-freedom in his “rarefactions.”

F. T. Marinetti. “Dunes: Motes en liberté” [Dunes: Words-in-Freedom]. In Poesia 1 (April 15, 1920)

Umberto Boccioni, Carlo Carrá, F. T. Marinetti, Luigi Russolo, and Ugo Piatti. “Sintesi futurista della guerra” [Futurist Synthesis of the War]. In Guerrapittura: Futurismo politico, dinamismo plastico, 12 disegni guerreschi, parole in libertá, edited by Carlo Carrá. Milan: Edizioni Futuriste di “Poesia,” 1915

This collective statement pits Italy and its World War allies, depicted as independent, agile, creative, and powerful against their enemies, shown as pedantic and brutal.


Clipping F. T. Marinetti. Enquête internationale sur le vers libre et manifeste du futurisme. [International Survey on Free Verse and the Futurist Manifesto]. Milan: Éditions de “Poesia,” 1909

For this book Marinetti asked poets Gustave Kahn, Ada Negri, Gabriele D’Annunzio, and others to respond to free verse, a form of poetry that does not adhere to meter or rhyme. He went on to declare in a manifesto of 1913— “Imagination without Strings and Words in Freedom”—that free verse, banal and monotonous, “once had countless reasons for existing but now is destined to be replaced by words-in-freedom.”

F. T. Marinetti. Zang Tumb Tumb. Adrianopoli, Ottobre 1912 [Zang Tumb Tumb. Adrianople, October 1912]. Milan: Edizioni Futuriste de “Poesia,” 1914

One of the most famous examples of words-in-freedom, Zang Tumb Tumb is Marinetti’s dynamic expression of the siege of the Turkish city of Adrianople (now Edirne) during the Balkan War of 1912, which he reported on as a war correspondent. The title of the book elicits the sights and sounds of mechanized war—artillery shelling, bombs, and explosions.


Admittance Card

Clipping Corrado Govoni. “Autoritratto: Rarefazione di Govoni” [Self-Portrait: Rarefaction of Govoni]. In Lacerba 3, no. 9 (February 28, 1915)

This art and literary magazine showcased illustration, poetry, manifestos, and essays. Advocating the liberty and autonomy of art, Lacerba became a hub of creative activity for the Futurists. Here Govoni, a poet, prose writer, and playwright, creates a childlike caricature of himself, incorporating handwritten verse that playfully describes his facial features, an example of the works he called “rarefactions.”

Music, Letters, and Noisemakers

This case focuses on drawings and sound compositions by Francesco Cangiullo and Luigi Russolo. In their variations on Filippo Tommaso Marinetti’s words-in-freedom they explore music, entertainment, and the noise of modern life.

Francesco Cangiullo. Caffé-concerto: Alfabeto a sorpresa [Café-Concert: Unexpected Alphabet]. Milan: Edizioni futuriste di “Poesia,” 1919

In his best-known work, drawn in 1915 but published four years later, Cangiullo whimsically depicts a lively evening at the variety theater in his hometown of Naples in which the dancers, singers, acrobats, and comedians are composed of letters, numbers, and mathematical signs. This lyrical narrative, a pictorial interpretation of Marinetti’s words-in-freedom is reproduced on the screens above.

Admittance Card


Above: Francesco Cangiullo. “Canzone Pirotecnica” [Firework Song]. In La Balza 1
(April 10, 1915)

Luigi Russolo. “Dalla rete di rumori: Risveglio di una cittá” [From the Web of Noises: Reawakening of a City]. In Lacerba 2, no. 2 (January 15, 1914)

Russolo creates the sounds of yellers, rumblers, cracklers, rubbers, exploders, hummers, gurglers, and whistlers in this musical composition in which traditional notes are replaced by expressive lines.

Letter Benedetta Marinetti to unknown recipient, January 11, 1927 [Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Papers, 3.D.1. The Museum of Modern Art Archives, New York]

Benedetta Marinetti, Futurist artist and wife of F. T. Marinetti, wrote this letter on stationery designed by Giacomo Balla. She says, “I am only sorry that you do not know the most important invention of the machine age: the noise-timers of the futurist artist Signor Russolo. I send you his book ‘Arte dei Rumori’ (The art of noises) and the musical pamphlets.”

F. T. Marinetti. “La Battaglia di Adrianopoli” [The Battle of Adrianople], 1926 (recorded 1935).

In Tellus: The Audio Cassette Magazine 21, Audio by Visual Artists. 2:21 min. Marinetti expresses the chaos of this battle in a sound poem, communicating the auditory impact of words-in-freedom.

Download MP3 file

Futurism and Fascism

Filippo Tommaso Marinetti was a politician as well as a poet. Beginning in 1909 he used the manifesto, typicially a political gesture, as a means to disseminate Futurism, and in 1918 he established the Futurist Political Party. From the 1920s to the 1940s he allied himself with the Fascist leader Benito Mussolini. Sharing a vision of a new Italy empowered by national and cultural supremacy, they relied on each other for inspiration and collaboration. Marinetti hoped that by supporting Fascism, Futurism would win the backing of the regime, become the official art of the state, and gain international acclaim—but Mussolini never advocated an official Italian art. This collection of printed matter explores the intersection between Futurism and Fascism in writing published by the Futurists and in politics.

F. T. Marinetti. “Marinetti: Animatore d’italianitá” [Marinetti: Animator of Italianness].
Milan: 1924

This leaflet declares a cult of personality around Marinetti. Selected by the Futurist Mino Somenzi for a national honor, Marinetti is lauded by prominent cultural and political figures as the embodiment of Italian patriotism and spirit.

Futurismo 1, no. 8 (October 28, 1933)

This weekly Futurist periodical exalts Fascism and Futurism with bold Futurist typography. It proclaims “Long Live Mussolini” and “Long Live Marinetti” while describing Fascism as the only path to power and cultural glory. The red-and-green color scheme communicates the nationalism at the heart of both movements.

Mediterraneo futurista 14 (August 1942). Edited by F. T. Marinetti and Gaetano Patarozzi

This publication features Marinetti, who is pictured as a Fascist Blackshirt, a member of the paramilitary group organized by Mussolini, and addresses Marinetti’s support of World War II.


Special thanks to Chiara Bernasconi, Sheelagh Bevan, Sara Bodinson, Allegra Burnette, Michelle Elligott, Emma Enderby, Scott Gerson, Julianna Goodman, Jodi Hauptman, Pablo Helguera, Milan Hughston, Charlie Kalinowski, Rebecca Roberts, Jennifer Tobias, and Wendy Woon.