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Like many of his Futurist peers, Fortunato Depero was a man of many ideas, realized through an array of artistic media and genres. His art can be found in both Europe and the United States, but also in the Galleria Museo Depero he established, and his name is written on the Futurist manifesto. But these are just some of the aspects in the life of one of Italy’s most prominent cultural figures.

Born in 1892 in Fondo, Fortunato Depero grew up in Rovereto, in a part of Italy at the time under the Austria-Hungary empire. His journey into the arts began at the Scuola Reale Elisabettina, an art institution who donned many other big names on the Italian art scene as well, and was to continue in Vienna, at the Academy of Fine Arts. But life had different plans for Depero, whose application was rejected, prompting him to go to Turin instead, where he decorated the Expo of 1911. It would seem that every step of the way had an impact on Depero and his future practice. Upon his return to Rovereto, he started working as an apprentice to a marble worker, creating tombstones; it was probably then and there that he fell in love with sculpture and the act of creating three-dimensional objects. Don't miss our latest article about the great artist and designer Bruno Munari...

 

Fortunato Depero, Self-portrait with grimace, Rome, 11 November 1915

 

Becoming a Futurist

December 1913 was an important month for Fortunato Depero, as this is when he saw an exhibition of Umberto Boccioni in Rome, also attended by other members of the Italian Futurism such as Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and Giacomo Balla - the latter became his teacher when a year later Depero moved to Rome following World War I outbreak. Earlier, during a trip to Florence, the artist had discovered Lacerba, an Italian literary journal closely linked to Futurism, and now he was in the middle of it all, surrounded by the movement’s major players and falling in love with its ideology. He was fascinated by the idea of abandoning the past and embracing the future, working with machines, moving at a fast pace and building a new world.

In 1915, Depero and Balla co-signed a manifesto which later became monumental for Futurism: “Ricostruzione Futurista dell’universo”, or "Futurist Reconstruction of the Universe”, proposing some groundbreaking ideas and renouncing tradition. It could be said that this document introduced the “Second Futurism”, one involving pro-fascist artists and encouraging art that reaches everyone, through the means of advertising, interior design, fashion, mail art, theater production and so on. These new Futurist styles are also described in “Depero Futurista” a book featuring a multitude of geometric shapes and promoting a new kind of simplicity in design.  

 

 

A Multilayered Artist

After an illness cut his time in World War I short, Fortunato Depero forayed into new creative adventures. In 1916 he gets commissioned, though to no avail, to create costumes and design the scene for plays featuring Russian ballet dancers; he did, however, assist Pablo Picasso in designing the set and clothes for the 1917 play “Parade”. The avant-garde theater became an important part of Depero’s practice at the time, for he also gave life to “Il Teatro Plastico” (Plastic Theater), together with Swiss poet Gilbert Clavel, recited by marionettes and scored by Béla Bartók, among others.

Commercial success and recognition came with a different kind of work with fabrics, however. Depero’s wife, Rosetta Amadori, could be considered the reason we are now familiar with the so-called “Depero style” in painting and textile art; she is the one who introduced him to her own experiments, which then resulted in his “cloth mosaics” or “arazzi”. The earliest versions of these works rely heavily on Depero’s work in costume design, but he soon moved away from them to make different versions, always with Rosetta by his side. Finally, in 1919, the couple went back to Rovereto and opened the door to the Casa d’Arte Futurista (The House of Futurist Art), their workshop and showroom. Within their Casa, the artists produced everything that a modern home should need and have, using design that is both useful and aesthetically appealing.

This establishment would become only one of many throughout the country, as a network of hubs which used applied arts to bring Futurist art closer to the people, outside of museums and galleries. Italy wasn’t the only place showing off the increasing interest in applied arts: in Germany, there was Bauhaus, founded with the same goal of uniting industry, arts and crafts, and fellow artists like Roger Fry in the United Kingdom and Sonia Delaunay in France also had their own spaces for fabric artwork production.

The 1920s saw Fortunato Depero work with advertising as well, and exhibiting his multimedia works in cities like Milan, Turin, Rome and Venice. He continued designing posters and advertising campaigns, sometimes even objects for brands like Campari, and worked on ballets, such as the 1924 “Anihccam del 3000” which was shows throughout Italy.

In 1928, carried by triumph and looking for more ground to conquer, Fortunato and Rosetta move to New York. There, another Futurist House was born and his many-faceted work continues, again in the fields of painting, advertising, restaurant and shopping mall interior design, theater, and editorial, which proved to be particularly successful given his commissions to design covers for publications like Vogue, Vanity Fair, and The New Yorker, among many others.

 

Vanity Fair cover designed by Fortunato Depero, 1930

 

Following the collapse of Wall Street and the beginning of Great Depression, Depero returned to his homeland, rejoining the Futurists and their new major idea - aeropittura, painting that glorified airplanes and the “future” they were bringing. Year 1931 brought another manifesto signed by Depero, titled “Manifesto dell’arte pubblicitaria” (Manifesto of advertising art), which celebrated dynamic images aiming to grab attention.

Leading up to World War II, the artist expanded on his skills in advertising, concurrently exhibiting works in a variety of shows. Depero’s alignment with Fascism was apparent, which is why his second trip to America was unsuccessful - they rejected his and the ideas of Futurism, as the movement was now considered Fascist art. After the war, he managed to distance himself from the ideology, and his art lived on in its many shapes and forms. In 1957, he had begun setting up the Galleria Museo Depero in Rovereto, which was inaugurated in 1959, a year before Depero died.

In 2009, the Depero House of Futurist Art in Rovereto reopened as Mart Museum, and it now houses some of his major works.

 

Stay Tuned to Kooness magazine for more exciting news from the art world.

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