Biography

From Capri to the House of Futurist Art

Clavel, the Hunchback

«One day – writes Depero – Michele Semenov leads a friend of his to my studio: a small, hunchbacked gentleman with a straight nose like a small square, with golden teeth and female little shoes, with glassy and nasal laughter. A man of nerves and will, endowed with a superior culture. Professor of Egyptian history, investigator and observer with the sensitivity of an artist, writer, lover of  people, of verse and metaphysics … Composer of lyrics, he was also a pleasure-seeker and a sufferer. His name is Gilbert Clavel.

He enters my studio and is surprised. Unexpectedly he finds himself in the world of his dreams. He tells me that he is writing a novel set on an island, covered by an unreal crystal flora in a mechanized style and with enchanting and iridescent colors, where you can lead a chimeric life. As soon as he sees the sketch of the plastic scenario I created for the Russian Ballets he is struck and thoughtful. It is the flowery island of his dream that he finds built and within his reach. So we know each other and become friends. After a few days our understanding becomes fraternal and deep, and he invites me as his guest to Capri»(1).

Il Gobbo Clavel

«One day – writes Depero – Michele Semenov leads a friend of his to my studio: a small, hunchbacked gentleman with a straight nose like a small square, with golden teeth and female little shoes, with glassy and nasal laughter. A man of nerves and will, endowed with a superior culture. Professor of Egyptian history, investigator and observer with the sensitivity of an artist, writer, lover of  people, of verse and metaphysics … Composer of lyrics, he was also a pleasure-seeker and a sufferer. His name is Gilbert Clavel.

He enters my studio and is surprised. Unexpectedly he finds himself in the world of his dreams. He tells me that he is writing a novel set on an island, covered by an unreal crystal flora in a mechanized style and with enchanting and iridescent colors, where you can lead a chimeric life. As soon as he sees the sketch of the plastic scenario I created for the Russian Ballets he is struck and thoughtful. It is the flowery island of his dream that he finds built and within his reach. So we know each other and become friends. After a few days our understanding becomes fraternal and deep, and he invites me as his guest to Capri»(1).

Magical Atmosphere of Capri

Depero spent most of the year 1917 in Capri as guest at Clavel’s.

«Here we live only of poetry – he writes – the only voice is the song, the only purpose of living here is the dream.To forget, love, dream and laugh openly at the mercy of the wave. The skin dilates, the whole being vibrates with visual sensations, reality appears translucent»(2).

During that stay Depero collaborated with Clavel creating the illustrations for his book, Istituto per suicidi (An Institute for Suicidals), and, together with his new friend, he also laid the foundations for his Plastic Theater.

The great imaginative suggestion aroused in Depero by Gilbert Clavel, and especially by his hump, placed at the center, as a privileged subject, appeared in a large number of works, both graphic and pictorial, such as the painting Clavel in funicolare (Clavel in the funicular), of 1918, for example , which is the most famous one. But also many of the  drawings for Clavel’s book An Institute for Suicidals are inspired by the figure of the hunchback Clavel. Depero’s illustrations for the novel by Clavel, which was in fact set along the twisted paths of the Torre Fournillo (the residence of Clavel in Capri), live, on one side in the drama of the black-white contrasts, and, on the other, in an almost magical aura that introduces a climate of “temporal suspension”, almost a sort of  metaphysical wait.This is one of the first symptoms of an experimentation that would later lead Depero “beyond” Futurism as such.

Magical Atmosphere of Capri

Most of the year 1917 flew for Depero in the living room of Capri, host of Clavel.

«Here we live only of poetry – he writes – the only voice is the song, the only purpose of living here is the dream.To forget, love, dream and laugh openly at the mercy of the wave. The skin dilates, the whole being vibrates with visual sensations, reality appears translucent»(2).

During that stay Depero collaborated with Clavel creating the illustrations for his book, Istituto per suicidi (An Institute for Suicidals), and, together with his new friend, he also laid the foundations for his Plastic Theater.

The great imaginative suggestion aroused in Depero by Gilbert Clavel, and especially by his hump, placed at the center, as a privileged subject, appeared in a large number of works, both graphic and pictorial, such as the painting Clavel in funicolare (Clavel in the funicular), of 1918, for example , which is the most famous one. But also many of the  drawings for Clavel’s book An Institute for Suicidals are inspired by the figure of the hunchback Clavel. Depero’s illustrations for the novel by Clavel, which was in fact set along the twisted paths of the Torre Fournillo (the residence of Clavel in Capri), live, on one side in the drama of the black-white contrasts, and, on the other, in an almost magical aura that introduces a climate of “temporal suspension”, almost a sort of  metaphysical wait.This is one of the first symptoms of an experimentation that would later lead Depero “beyond” Futurism as such.

The Theatre

As for Spezzature (Odd writings), we had already spoken of an overwhelming scenic attitude of Depero, then already visible in a literary guise. Towards the mid-1910s, the futurist environment, especially the Roman one, experienced a strong wind of theatrical experimentation (at first only theoretical, then also by real applications), especially by Balla, Depero and Prampolini. The 1916, in this regard, was a crucial year for Depero. In fact, the second collection of Teatro sintetico futurista (Synthetic Futurist Theater), which also includes his theatrical synthesis Colori (Colors), was published in the April issue of Gli Avvenimenti (Happenings). It is a scenic action of pure abstraction conceived, as Bruno Passamani observed, in the area of ​​gestalt-psychology: in fact, actors are replaced by “abstract individualities” immersed in a scenic-color space. These abstract entities are phono-chromatic in the sense that they give out sounds that materialize into color-forms. And even if about Colori there is no graphic document left (except the text), Mimismagia, of which there are at least some design sketches (currently four) has had better luck. This new theatrical work (also left on paper) emphasizes «the emotion expressed in the acrobatic mimic dance with transformational plastic costumes»(3).

These costumes, in turn, are the mid-point of the transition from the complex plastics to the return to figuration and find their theoretical precedent in a handwritten text Abito Apparizione (Apparition Apparel, 1915)  inspired by Balla’s manifesto Outfit antineutrale (The antineutral outfit) (1914). During 1916, moreover, Depero carried out a series of works on collages of colored papers, with cubo-futurist experiments of great plastic accent, whose sense of relief was also accentuated by the use of spot colors. It wouldl be this cycle of works, of which (for now) there are only few collages left, an important training ground for the iconography of future theatrical experiences. Actually, towards the end of 1916 Depero met also Diaghilev, the producer of the Balletti Russi (Russian Ballets), who visited his studio and commissioned him  the scenes and plastic costumes for Il canto dell’usignolo (The Song of the Nightingale) with music by Stravinsky, and also those for Giardino zoologico (The zoological garden) of Cangiullo, with music by Ravel. Depero managed to create a scale model of the great plastic scenery and the sketches of all the costumes in collages of colored papers. Then, various setbacks in the realization of the costumes and above all of the great scenery (also due to the contemporary assignment to collaborate to the costumes of Picasso in Parade) did not allow him to complete the job in the previewed times and, therefore, everything went to upstream. Le Chant du Rossignol would be staged only in 1920, in Paris, but with the costumes of Matisse (4).

The Theatre

As for Spezzature (Odd writings), we had already spoken of an overwhelming scenic attitude of Depero, then already visible in a literary guise. Towards the mid-1910s, the futurist environment, especially the Roman one, experienced a strong wind of theatrical experimentation (at first only theoretical, then also by real applications), especially by Balla, Depero and Prampolini. The 1916, in this regard, was a crucial year for Depero. In fact, the second collection of Teatro sintetico futurista (Synthetic Futurist Theater), which also includes his theatrical synthesis Colori (Colors), was published in the April issue of Gli Avvenimenti (Happenings). It is a scenic action of pure abstraction conceived, as Bruno Passamani observed, in the area of ​​gestalt-psychology: in fact, actors are replaced by “abstract individualities” immersed in a scenic-color space. These abstract entities are phono-chromatic in the sense that they give out sounds that materialize into color-forms. And even if about Colori there is no graphic document left (except the text), Mimismagia, of which there are at least some design sketches (currently four) has had better luck. This new theatrical work (also left on paper) emphasizes «the emotion expressed in the acrobatic mimic dance with transformational plastic costumes»(3).

These costumes, in turn, are the mid-point of the transition from the complex plastics to the return to figuration and find their theoretical precedent in a handwritten text Abito Apparizione (Apparition Apparel, 1915)  inspired by Balla’s manifesto Outfit antineutrale (The antineutral outfit) (1914). During 1916, moreover, Depero carried out a series of works on collages of colored papers, with cubo-futurist experiments of great plastic accent, whose sense of relief was also accentuated by the use of spot colors. It wouldl be this cycle of works, of which (for now) there are only few collages left, an important training ground for the iconography of future theatrical experiences. Actually, towards the end of 1916 Depero met also Diaghilev, the producer of the Balletti Russi (Russian Ballets), who visited his studio and commissioned him  the scenes and plastic costumes for Il canto dell’usignolo (The Song of the Nightingale) with music by Stravinsky, and also those for Giardino zoologico (The zoological garden) of Cangiullo, with music by Ravel. Depero managed to create a scale model of the great plastic scenery and the sketches of all the costumes in collages of colored papers. Then, various setbacks in the realization of the costumes and above all of the great scenery (also due to the contemporary assignment to collaborate to the costumes of Picasso in Parade) did not allow him to complete the job in the previewed times and, therefore, everything went to upstream. Le Chant du Rossignol would be staged only in 1920, in Paris, but with the costumes of Matisse (4).

In Capri were created the “fabric paintings”

The idea of ​​the so-called tapestries (a misnomer because in fact they are marquetries of colored fabrics) came to Depero in 1917 after the failed project for the Russian Ballets. The availability of a certain number of colored cloths, left unused, suggested him the idea of ​​replacing  with  them the collage papers he was doing at that time. At the beginning, therefore, it was a “collage of colored fabrics” on a cardboard support. Then, the glue was replaced with needle and thread while the cardboard with the raw linen for sheets, and little by little the technique was more and more improved. The commercial success was almost immediate. The requests, even of large works, were not lacking. So it was that, coordinated by his wife Rosetta (first and experimental stapler) were employed a certain number of collaborators, who for years produced, under the guidance of Depero, certainly some of the most beautiful compositions in colored fabrics of the XX century (5).

The “Balli Plastici”(Plastic Ballets): puppets and avant-garde

On the evening of April 14th 1918 at the Teatro dei Piccoli in Rome was staged I Balli Plastici (Plastic Ballets), a show with the choreography of Depero and Gilbert Clavel. The music was by Alfredo Casella, Gerald Tyrwhitt, Francesco Malipiero and Bela Bartok, hidden under the pseudonym of Chemenow. The actors: wooden puppets. With I Balli Plastici (conceived in Capri), Depero reached the highest point of his theatrical experimentation, which, after this experience, and after a further theoretical phase at the end of the decade, he abandoned until the mid-Twenties. The aim of the theatrical project by Depero and Clavel was to demonstrate that besides subverting the scenography, it was necessary to eliminate also the actors, replacing them with the puppets. In other words they wanted to propose the overcoming of the same Russian Ballets by implementing the transposition of the Puppet Theater into the language of the new Cubist-Futurist forms where dialogue, as Albert Sautier has well observed, «is replaced by pure mimic action»(6).

In Capri were created the “Fabric Paintings”

The idea of ​​the so-called tapestries (a misnomer because in fact they are marquetries of colored fabrics) came to Depero in 1917 after the failed project for the Russian Ballets. The availability of a certain number of colored cloths, left unused, suggested him the idea of ​​replacing  with  them the collage papers he was doing at that time. At the beginning, therefore, it was a “collage of colored fabrics” on a cardboard support. Then, the glue was replaced with needle and thread while the cardboard with the raw linen for sheets, and little by little the technique was more and more improved. The commercial success was almost immediate. The requests, even of large works, were not lacking. So it was that, coordinated by his wife Rosetta (first and experimental stapler) were employed a certain number of collaborators, who for years produced, under the guidance of Depero, certainly some of the most beautiful compositions in colored fabrics of the XX century (5).

The “Balli Plastici”(Plastic Ballets): puppets and avant-garde

On the evening of April 14th 1918 at the Teatro dei Piccoli in Rome was staged I Balli Plastici (Plastic Ballets), a show with the choreography of Depero and Gilbert Clavel. The music was by Alfredo Casella, Gerald Tyrwhitt, Francesco Malipiero and Bela Bartok, hidden under the pseudonym of Chemenow. The actors: wooden puppets. With I Balli Plastici (conceived in Capri), Depero reached the highest point of his theatrical experimentation, which, after this experience, and after a further theoretical phase at the end of the decade, he abandoned until the mid-Twenties. The aim of the theatrical project by Depero and Clavel was to demonstrate that besides subverting the scenography, it was necessary to eliminate also the actors, replacing them with the puppets. In other words they wanted to propose the overcoming of the same Russian Ballets by implementing the transposition of the Puppet Theater into the language of the new Cubist-Futurist forms where dialogue, as Albert Sautier has well observed, «is replaced by pure mimic action»(6).

After eleven replies, with benevolent reviews, but with a rather halfhearted welcome (in fact the people expected the usual puppets of Podrecca and not the clumsy movements of the Deperian robots), all the caravanserai of sceneries and puppets ended up in a warehouse where they remained until 1922, after this date every trace of them was lost. However, the experience of Plastic Dances proved to be a precious source of iconographic inspiration which, both before and after the Roman experience, gave life to a very vital pictorial cycle where the ephemeral life of wooden puppets was forever frozen on the canvas. And certainly of this period are some of the most significant (and most famous) works of Deperian painting, such as I miei balli plastici (My Plastic Dances) (1918) where the theatrical experience, also thanks to a quasi-Egyptian system, is summarized in its globality, or La grande selvaggia (The great savage) (1917) or Rotazione di ballerina e pappagalli (Rotation of dancer and parrots) (1917/18) which instead privileged single characters, among many, who crowd the ballet choreographies.

VIAREGGIO AND THE AVANT-GARDE PAINTING

Invited to Viareggio in August 1918 to take part in the avant-garde exhibition of the Kursaal (a collective in which also De Chirico, Carrà, Moses Levy, Primo Conti, Prampolini, and many others participated) Depero settled there for several months. During the stay he continued his research on the Teatro Magico (Magic Theater) (7), which, overcoming the formulations of the Plastic Theater and its clumsy wooden puppets, finally wanted to come up with the idea of ​​a new subject-actor who moved with greater agility on the stage: a dancer-acrobat made of rubber, tin and cloth. A sort of rubber little devil with jerky movements that Depero later on would immortalize in one of  his famous paintings.

After eleven replies, with benevolent reviews, but with a rather halfhearted welcome (in fact the people expected the usual puppets of Podrecca and not the clumsy movements of the Deperian robots), all the caravanserai of sceneries and puppets ended up in a warehouse where they remained until 1922, after this date every trace of them was lost. However, the experience of Plastic Dances proved to be a precious source of iconographic inspiration which, both before and after the Roman experience, gave life to a very vital pictorial cycle where the ephemeral life of wooden puppets was forever frozen on the canvas. And certainly of this period are some of the most significant (and most famous) works of Deperian painting, such as I miei balli plastici (My Plastic Dances) (1918) where the theatrical experience, also thanks to a quasi-Egyptian system, is summarized in its globality, or La grande selvaggia (The great savage) (1917) or Rotazione di ballerina e pappagalli (Rotation of dancer and parrots) (1917/18) which instead privileged single characters, among many, who crowd the ballet choreographies.

VIAREGGIO AND THE AVANT-GARDE PAINTING

Invited to Viareggio in August 1918 to take part in the avant-garde exhibition of the Kursaal (a collective in which also De Chirico, Carrà, Moses Levy, Primo Conti, Prampolini, and many others participated) Depero settled there for several months. During the stay he continued his research on the Teatro Magico (Magic Theater) (7), which, overcoming the formulations of the Plastic Theater and its clumsy wooden puppets, finally wanted to come up with the idea of ​​a new subject-actor who moved with greater agility on the stage: a dancer-acrobat made of rubber, tin and cloth. A sort of rubber little devil with jerky movements that Depero later on would immortalize in one of  his famous paintings.

DEPERO BETWEEN METAPHYSICS AND MAGIC REALISM

At the end of the First World War a great wind of revision blew over the artistic Europe. Anxieties and fury of the avant-gardes have turned into existential anxieties, in the search of a fixed point, a reference: the return to the “trade”. So the artists looked at Giotto, Paolo Uccello, Piero della Francesca. In 1916 Picasso, after having shattered every order in the image, went on “pilgrimage” to Pompeii to rediscover Classicism. In February 1919, at the Galleria Bragaglia in Rome, Giorgio de Chirico, with his metaphysical mannequins, shook the headquarters of Futurism. Depero, as we have seen, was with de Chirico and Carrà at the Viareggio exhibition. Then, surely, he visited the metaphysical exhibition in Rome. This is how were created a group of works ( Città meccanizzata dalle  ombre-The city mechanized by shadows, Io e mia moglieMe and my wife, La Casa del MagoThe House of the Magician and Ricamatrice automatica e lettoreAutomatic embroideress and reader), which approached the metaphysical theme, declined according to an entirely “environmental” sensitivity. The atmosphere he could live  in the magical climate of his Rovereto tapestry workshop, often associated precisely with the idea of ​​a magism which, certainly, was not foreign to the influence of the esoteric Clavel.

In fact, among the illustrations made for the Swiss poet’s book, in 1917, one is emblematically entitled Plastica Metafisica (Metaphysical Plastic). That of Depero is therefore a new, further, vision of reality that arises between metaphysics and magic. Other works instead live on decorative emphasis, such as La Ciociara or the first version of Paese di Tarantelle (Country of Tarantelle), which confirm the atypical nature of his futurist militancy.

Carlo Belli, defined the set of these atypical works as belonging to the “metaphysical neoclassicism” of Depero. He certainly did not mean the term “neoclassical” as in the common sense, that is, to use his words «not the revival of classicist models, more or less ancient, as happens in the poor pictorial and literary Noucentisme of some Italian artists already militants in futurism , but, in the case of Depero, the establishment of a classic sentiment of a new vigorous invention, understood as an opposition to romanticism, impressionism, symbolism and … neoclassicism»(8). The modalities of this poetic were a sort of “obsession” to solidify the vague flows left in the air by impressionism, the abolition of the half-tones, the recourse to the “mechanical muse” and the chromatic violence enclosed in well-defined fields, often with three-dimensional results.

In short, at this moment Depero was even beyond Futurism.

DEPERO BETWEEN METAPHYSICS AND MAGIC REALISM

At the end of the First World War a great wind of revision blew over the artistic Europe. Anxieties and fury of the avant-gardes have turned into existential anxieties, in the search of a fixed point, a reference: the return to the “trade”. So the artists looked at Giotto, Paolo Uccello, Piero della Francesca. In 1916 Picasso, after having shattered every order in the image, went on “pilgrimage” to Pompeii to rediscover Classicism. In February 1919, at the Galleria Bragaglia in Rome, Giorgio de Chirico, with his metaphysical mannequins, shook the headquarters of Futurism. Depero, as we have seen, was with de Chirico and Carrà at the Viareggio exhibition. Then, surely, he visited the metaphysical exhibition in Rome. This is how were created a group of works ( Città meccanizzata dalle  ombre-The city mechanized by shadows, Io e mia moglieMe and my wife, La Casa del MagoThe House of the Magician and Ricamatrice automatica e lettoreAutomatic embroideress and reader), which approached the metaphysical theme, declined according to an entirely “environmental” sensitivity. The atmosphere he could live  in the magical climate of his Rovereto tapestry workshop, often associated precisely with the idea of ​​a magism which, certainly, was not foreign to the influence of the esoteric Clavel.

In fact, among the illustrations made for the Swiss poet’s book, in 1917, one is emblematically entitled Plastica Metafisica (Metaphysical Plastic). That of Depero is therefore a new, further, vision of reality that arises between metaphysics and magic. Other works instead live on decorative emphasis, such as La Ciociara or the first version of Paese di Tarantelle (Country of Tarantelle), which confirm the atypical nature of his futurist militancy.

Carlo Belli, defined the set of these atypical works as belonging to the “metaphysical neoclassicism” of Depero. He certainly did not mean the term “neoclassical” as in the common sense, that is, to use his words «not the revival of classicist models, more or less ancient, as happens in the poor pictorial and literary Noucentisme of some Italian artists already militants in futurism , but, in the case of Depero, the establishment of a classic sentiment of a new vigorous invention, understood as an opposition to romanticism, impressionism, symbolism and … neoclassicism»(8). The modalities of this poetic were a sort of “obsession” to solidify the vague flows left in the air by impressionism, the abolition of the half-tones, the recourse to the “mechanical muse” and the chromatic violence enclosed in well-defined fields, often with three-dimensional results.

In short, at this moment Depero was even beyond Futurism.

THE FUTURIST HOUSE

After having held a solo show at Bragaglia’s, in Rome, at the beginning of 1919, Depero was present with a large number of works also in Milan at the National Futurist Exhibition, at the Galleria Moretti in Palazzo Cova, where Marinetti gathered the best of the surviving futurists together with  the young generation of artists in order to relaunch the post-war Futurism. From the war  the movement had come out decimated: Boccioni and Sant’Elia died, Carrà flew towards the Metaphysics, Sironi en route to the twentieth century, Severini (always too cubist) and Russolo (obsessed with occultism) lost along the way.

In the late spring of 1919 Depero returned to Rovereto, still destroyed by war and in that atmosphere of reconstruction, he founded his Casa d’Arte Futurista (Futurist house of art), where he intended (once the technique would have been perfected) to produce tapestries in large quantities, as well as advertising signs, furniture and various furnishings, to decorate the new futurist house.

In fact, the spirit of Futurist Reconstruction of Universe, with its kaleidoscopic range of proposals, could certainly not be caged in galleries and museums, or practiced in sterile experiments as striking as they are ephemeral. And, given its marked operational character, the ideal test-bed to verify the actual proliferation of the Futurist idea could only be the field of the applied arts. On these bases, since 1918 various futurist “art houses” had been opened  all over Italy: in Rome those by Prampolini and Recchi, by Bragaglia, Giannattasio and Melli; in Palermo by Rizzo; in Bologna by Tato; and, in Rovereto, precisely the Futurist House of Art by Depero (9). However, the start of this Deperian project could not materialize before 1919, mainly due to the artist’s continuous theatrical commitments. Moreover, before embarking on utopian adventures, Depero  wanted to test the effective applicability of his ideas to avoid falling into a flat decorativism line, often applied to objects difficult to use (a problem that affected a little all the production of Italian art houses of the period). The Depero’s Futurist House of Art , thanks to the continuous, and apt, conception of the artist, would become the most known and appreciated, dealing with advertising, art of fabric (tapestries, cushions, waistcoats, in the most garish colors), indoor furnishing and advertising architecture. Between alternating events (and temporary transfers to Paris and New York) it would remain operative until the early 1940s.

THE FUTURIST HOUSE

After having held a solo show at Bragaglia’s, in Rome, at the beginning of 1919, Depero was present with a large number of works also in Milan at the National Futurist Exhibition, at the Galleria Moretti in Palazzo Cova, where Marinetti gathered the best of the surviving futurists together with  the young generation of artists in order to relaunch the post-war Futurism. From the war  the movement had come out decimated: Boccioni and Sant’Elia died, Carrà flew towards the Metaphysics, Sironi en route to the twentieth century, Severini (always too cubist) and Russolo (obsessed with occultism) lost along the way.

In the late spring of 1919 Depero returned to Rovereto, still destroyed by war and in that atmosphere of reconstruction, he founded his Casa d’Arte Futurista (Futurist house of art), where he intended (once the technique would have been perfected) to produce tapestries in large quantities, as well as advertising signs, furniture and various furnishings, to decorate the new futurist house.

In fact, the spirit of Futurist Reconstruction of Universe, with its kaleidoscopic range of proposals, could certainly not be caged in galleries and museums, or practiced in sterile experiments as striking as they are ephemeral. And, given its marked operational character, the ideal test-bed to verify the actual proliferation of the Futurist idea could only be the field of the applied arts. On these bases, since 1918 various futurist “art houses” had been opened  all over Italy: in Rome those by Prampolini and Recchi, by Bragaglia, Giannattasio and Melli; in Palermo by Rizzo; in Bologna by Tato; and, in Rovereto, precisely the Futurist House of Art by Depero (9). However, the start of this Deperian project could not materialize before 1919, mainly due to the artist’s continuous theatrical commitments. Moreover, before embarking on utopian adventures, Depero  wanted to test the effective applicability of his ideas to avoid falling into a flat decorativism line, often applied to objects difficult to use (a problem that affected a little all the production of Italian art houses of the period). The Depero’s Futurist House of Art , thanks to the continuous, and apt, conception of the artist, would become the most known and appreciated, dealing with advertising, art of fabric (tapestries, cushions, waistcoats, in the most garish colors), indoor furnishing and advertising architecture. Between alternating events (and temporary transfers to Paris and New York) it would remain operative until the early 1940s.

The first important commitments for the new Casa d’Arte were in 1920, like the two large tapestries commissioned by Umberto Notari, writer and director of “L’Ambrosiano” and a series of advertising signs on behalf of the I.I.I. illustrating the Italian products promoted by the Navigating Fair in Mediterranean ports. In January 1921 he held a major solo show at Palazzo Cova in Milan, which was later transferred by Bragaglia to Rome. This was an important exhibition because in the relative catalogue Depero included a theoretical text to introduce and motivate his new work Oltre la pittura (Beyond painting):

«The purpose of this art industry of mine, which for now is limited to the production of tapestries and cushions, is to replace, with ultramodern intentions, every type of tapestry-gobelin, Persian, Turkish, Arabic, Indian carpet, which today invades any distinct environment; secondly and consequently to the first, it is to begin a necessary and urgent creation of an internal environment, whether a living room, a theater hall or a hotel, and an aristocratic palace, an environment corresponding to a contemporary fashion, capable of receiving then the whole avant-garde art that today is in its full development»(10).

It is evident that the production of Depero is, and will be, of an artisanal nature, never reaching those large numbers required for a production  suitable to larger markets, such as for example the American one. But this to the detriment of quality and without the possibility of a direct control of the artist on every single piece. Thus a conscious, deliberate choice, perhaps also suggested by the reading of the 1919 Bauhaus manifesto, where it incited: «Architects, sculptors, painters, we must all return to craftsmanship! In fact, there is no “professional” art. There is no substantial difference between the artist and the craftsman … We therefore form a new corporation of artisans …»(11). Probably Depero had heard of the Gropius’s manifesto and this is not an entirely remote hypothesis  precisely because of the relationships both cultural and friendly that Depero maintained with his former Elisabettina’s mates, then students in Vienna or Munich as well as his relationships with the German artistic circles. Kurt Schwitters had shown a great enthusiasm for his work, and Depero had received some extensive reviews in magazines such as “Gebrauchsgraphik”.

The first important commitments for the new Casa d’Arte were in 1920, like the two large tapestries commissioned by Umberto Notari, writer and director of “L’Ambrosiano” and a series of advertising signs on behalf of the I.I.I. illustrating the Italian products promoted by the Navigating Fair in Mediterranean ports. In January 1921 he held a major solo show at Palazzo Cova in Milan, which was later transferred by Bragaglia to Rome. This was an important exhibition because in the relative catalogue Depero included a theoretical text to introduce and motivate his new work Oltre la pittura (Beyond painting):

«The purpose of this art industry of mine, which for now is limited to the production of tapestries and cushions, is to replace, with ultramodern intentions, every type of tapestry-gobelin, Persian, Turkish, Arabic, Indian carpet, which today invades any distinct environment; secondly and consequently to the first, it is to begin a necessary and urgent creation of an internal environment, whether a living room, a theater hall or a hotel, and an aristocratic palace, an environment corresponding to a contemporary fashion, capable of receiving then the whole avant-garde art that today is in its full development»(10).

It is evident that the production of Depero is, and will be, of an artisanal nature, never reaching those large numbers required for a production  suitable to larger markets, such as for example the American one. But this to the detriment of quality and without the possibility of a direct control of the artist on every single piece. Thus a conscious, deliberate choice, perhaps also suggested by the reading of the 1919 Bauhaus manifesto, where it incited: «Architects, sculptors, painters, we must all return to craftsmanship! In fact, there is no “professional” art. There is no substantial difference between the artist and the craftsman … We therefore form a new corporation of artisans …»(11). Probably Depero had heard of the Gropius’s manifesto and this is not an entirely remote hypothesis  precisely because of the relationships both cultural and friendly that Depero maintained with his former Elisabettina’s mates, then students in Vienna or Munich as well as his relationships with the German artistic circles. Kurt Schwitters had shown a great enthusiasm for his work, and Depero had received some extensive reviews in magazines such as “Gebrauchsgraphik”.

Furniture as a game

Depero’s achievements in the area of ​​furniture were less mechanical than one would have expected: in reality the furniture he created always referred to the “playful” instance that crosses the Futurist reconstruction of universe, as stated in the Manifesto signed with Balla in 1915.  As a consequence, for Depero, the object always remained something “alive” that had to go beyond the pure “functional” data and charge itself with additional, if not provocative stories. It was also the line of the manifesto Il mobilio futurista, i mobili a sorpresa parlanti e paroliberi (Futurist furniture, the talking and wordmark surprise furniture), signed by Cangiullo in 1920, in which the basic data were the same, namely to save the «sympathy of things threatened by intransigent functionalism», or in other words to prevent what was defined as the” psychological and emotional divorce “between man and the objects of his daily life. A problem that often crossed the art and architecture of the 1920s.

In September 1921 Depero was in Rome where, on Gino Gori’s commission, he began the construction and furnishing of the Cabaret del Diavolo (Devil’s Cabaret), a sort of Dante’s dwelling frequented by futurists, Dadaists, anarchists and artists in general. The cabaret, structured along a path descending from Paradise through Purgatory and finally to Hell, was opened in April 1922 but had a short life.

Furniture as a game

Depero’s achievements in the area of ​​furniture were less mechanical than one would have expected: in reality the furniture he created always referred to the “playful” instance that crosses the Futurist reconstruction of universe, as stated in the Manifesto signed with Balla in 1915.  As a consequence, for Depero, the object always remained something “alive” that had to go beyond the pure “functional” data and charge itself with additional, if not provocative stories. It was also the line of the manifesto Il mobilio futurista, i mobili a sorpresa parlanti e paroliberi (Futurist furniture, the talking and wordmark surprise furniture), signed by Cangiullo in 1920, in which the basic data were the same, namely to save the «sympathy of things threatened by intransigent functionalism», or in other words to prevent what was defined as the” psychological and emotional divorce “between man and the objects of his daily life. A problem that often crossed the art and architecture of the 1920s.

In September 1921 Depero was in Rome where, on Gino Gori’s commission, he began the construction and furnishing of the Cabaret del Diavolo (Devil’s Cabaret), a sort of Dante’s dwelling frequented by futurists, Dadaists, anarchists and artists in general. The cabaret, structured along a path descending from Paradise through Purgatory and finally to Hell, was opened in April 1922 but had a short life.

Notes

  1. Fortunato Depero, Uno svizzero, in: Fortunato Depero nelle opere e nella vita (autobiography), Trento, 1940
  2. Fortunato Depero, Nel paradiso terrestre, in: Fortunato Depero nelle opere e nella vita (autobiography), Trento, 1940
  3. Mario Broglio, L’Esposizione romana di Depero, in: «Cronache d’Attualità», Roma, 31 maggio 1916.
  4. For a deeper study on Depero’s work for Diaghilev see: Bruno Passamani, Depero e la scena da «Colori» alla scena mobile. 1916-1930, Torino, 1970.
  5. Regarding Depero’s tapestry atelier see: Maurizio Scudiero, Depero. Magia degli arazzi, Trento, 1992, as well as Maurizio Scudiero, Fortunato Depero. Stoffe futuriste, Trento, 1995.
  6. The reference is to Tanzende Plastik (Plasticità danzante), published in: «Neue Zürcher Zeitung», Zurigo, May 19th 1918 (anonimous article but by Albert Sautier).
  7. On this argument see: Depero. Teatro Magico, a cura di Gabriella Belli, Nicoletta Boschiero e Bruno Passamani, Milano, 1989
  8. Carlo Belli, Memoria di Depero, in: Fortunato Depero, catalogue of the exhibition in Bassano del Grappa, by B. Passamani,1970.
  9. On this argument see:  Maurizio Scudiero, Depero Casa d’Arte Futurista, Firenze, 1988; Maurizio Scudiero, Casa d’Arte Futurista Depero, Trento, 1992; Gabriella Belli, La Casa del Mago, Rovereto, 1992.
  10. Fortunato Depero, Autopresentazione in Catalogue Depero e la sua casa d’arte, Milano, Galleria Centrale d’Arte (Palazzo Cova), 29 gennaio-20 febbraio 1921.
  11. Walter Gropius, Programm des Staatlichen Bauhauses in Weimar, in: Bauhaus. Weimar, Dessau, Berlin, Chicago, by di Hans M. Wingler, MIT, Cambridge, 1981.

Previous Chapter

Futur-Expressionist

Next Chapter

The Twenties, between Mechanical Art, Textiles and Advertising