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mumok APPetizer – Giacomo Balla

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A small sample from our current exhibition Enjoy - the mumok collection in Change.

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Giacomo Balla
Mercurio passa davanti al sole (Mercury passes by the sun), 1914

A rare astronomical event provided the initial point for Giacomo Balla to become involved with the representation of movement and optical effects. On 7 November 1914 Balla observed this rare astronomical constellation in Rome through his telescope. The planet Mercury transited the sun. The movement of the small planet Mercury across the face of the sun is depicted by overlapping circles. The motif becomes the depiction of light reflexes and reflections in the artist’s eye, a spiral movement of prism-like overlappings and reflections. The tiny planet of Mercury in front of the sun is almost unrecognisable amidst the bewildering interplay of light reflections.

When, at the end of 1914, Balla was painting the series with the Mercury transit, Europe was engulfed in war. The group of Italian Futurists to which Balla belonged were political agitators and warmongers. They pushed for Italy to enter the First World War. Balla, too, was an opponent of neutrality and propagated a pathetic and heroic patriotism. The Futurists regarded war as a model of the modern world, one which they wanted to instrumentalize and exploit artistically. “We would like to suggest that you take war as a subject for your painting. Try to experience the war in painting and to experience it in all its wonderful mechanised forms,” Filippo Marinetti instructed artist Gino Severini. In the Futurist manifestos, Balla’s heavenward gaze also has a background motivated by war. Space is declared to be one of the aims of the Futurist policy of conquest. Elsewhere the Futurists see themselves as (quote) “men of light” who drink “the spring waters of the sun”. A male chauvinist view of the world that accompanies the glorification of destruction. “We want to glorify war — the world’s only hygiene,” wrote Marinetti in the first Futurist Manifesto.