The Metal Book raises problems. It is beautiful, and it is tainted. A seminal work, crucial in the development of the Italian Futurist art movement, it was co-authored by the Italian artist, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, a fascist-sympathiser. The Futurist movement launched on 20 February 1909, with a manifesto printed on the front page of the French newspaper Le Figaro. Written by Marinetti himself, the manifesto outlined his vision of a movement that had not yet been created.
Marinetti’s manifesto implored all artists to embrace aggression, speed and technology and glorified war as “the only true hygiene of the world”. It also to “destroy museums, libraries, and fight against moralism, feminism, and all utilitarian cowardice.” Marinetti was very active in fascist politics although he did eventually withdraw in protest at what he called the “Roman Grandeur” which had come to dominate fascist aesthetics.
1932’s Metal Book, had a formal title: Parole in Libertá Futuriste Olfattive Tattili Termiche (Words in Futurist, Olfactory, Tactile, Thermal Freedom). It features poems by Marinetti with visualisations of them by his friend, Tullio D’Albisola. The 27-page metal book personifies and makes solid – in metal – the intense dynamism and energy of the early Futurist movement. It’s an important, and very beautiful object.
Today, editions of Marinetti’s ultra rare, library and museum hating Metal Book are now proudly owned by libraries and museums. In 2009, the British Library spent £83,000 on a copy.
David Barrie, director of the UK’s Art Fund, in an interview with The Guardian summed up how we should view the Metal Book today: “This metal book is an extraordinary invention, testifying to the revolutionary spirit of a movement that genuinely believed in the power of art to change the world. It also gives us an insight into the fascinating and complex relationship between Italy’s creative elite and the forces of Fascism.”
Parole in Libertá Futuriste Olfattive Tattili Termiche’s 27-pages, each one a 26cm square of sheet tin, were displayed held in a hefty steel frame.
Credits: “British Library buys Futurists’ metal manifesto” , Mark Brown, The Guardian; Melania Gazzotti, “Depero’s ‘Bolted Book’ and Futurist Publishing,” in Fortunato Depero, monographic issue of Italian Modern Art, 1 (January 2019) ; “Libertá Futuriste Olfattive Tattili Termiche” images courtesy, Yale University Library : Wikipedia.