A Transnational Bohemia: The Futurist Art of Gino Severini
In 1909 the painter Gino Severini, who had been living in Paris since 1906, reaffirmed his Italian identity by joining F.T. Marinetti’s Futurist movement from afar. This action placed him in the unusual position of simultaneously participating in two avant-garde cultures: Futurism and the myriad of trends taking place in Paris. While there was a great deal of exchange between these two worlds, Marinetti’s bombastic language and ultranationalist politics often set Futurism at odds with its Parisian counterparts. In order to navigate this cultural matrix, Severini cultivated a specific (and largely fictional) identity for himself. This creation took place primarily in the dance-halls and bohemian underworld of Montmartre, where the artist gained a reputation as a talented dancer and as a perceptive observer of cultural and artistic trends. My paper examines this conscious self-fashioning and the ways in which Severini used it to successfully position himself as an intermediary both between the Italian and Parisian avant-gardes and between the world of popular entertainment and its bourgeois clientele.
Severini’s experience as a foreign (Italian) artist hoping to make an impact in the complex world of the transnational avant-garde provides a critical lens through which to reevaluate cultural politics at the turn of the twentieth century. Through new research on Severini’s dance-hall imagery and his exhibition practices throughout Europe, I analyze the manner in which he was able to bridge the divide between the avant-garde and increasingly commercialized trends in popular culture. While Severini intentionally produced work that appealed to an up-scale clientele titillated by transgressive and exotic imagery, the dance-halls of Paris were not only important as sources of illicit subject matter. They also represented a liminal world in which he could re-fashion his public identity and thus transform himself from a little-known foreign artist into a critical player in the European avant-garde.
Keywords: Futurism, Bohemia, Avant-Garde, Dance, Popular Culture
Zoë Marie Jones
Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Art, Art History and Visual Studies, Duke University