This semester’s focus on Modernism takes me back to my first semester in Newark as a first year architecture student. I was a naive student with artistic tendencies trying grapple with the technicalities of my studies. Still trying to justify my choice in major, I attempted to search for a parallel between art, what I knew best, and architecture, what I would be doing for the rest of my life. The Newark Museum was my refuge out of the Architecture Building and eighth floor Cyprus and there I discovered Joseph Stella’s Voice of the City of New York Interpreted.
Joseph Stella was a unique futurist, Italian-born coming to the United States at the young age of 19 to eventually study art. However, it was his visit to Italy in 1909 at the age of 32 that exposed him to modernism and influenced his dynamic futurist and cubist styles. Stella’s works expressed profound ideas of societal transformation due to modern technology. His painting depicted a modern world disillusioned with religious beliefs and institutions due to the overwhelming forces of industrialization. There is this negotiation between industry and church with skylines, bridges, and cables in dark blacks and saturated colors and altars and stained glass in illuminating white tinted colors. Stella’s American Futurist echoes the beliefs of Italian Futurist Sant’Elia.
With the expansion of cities, such as Milan and Turin during the industrial age, a transformation of city components initiated and Italian Futurist began to disempower historicism for guidance in layout and composition. Associated with Le Figaro’s up rise from tradition and Boccioni’s paintings of evolved cities of maximum performance, Antonio Sant’Elia manifested the Futurist ideology in detailed drawings of the city he envisioned and in an essay outlining his dogma.
An underlying belief behind Sant’Elia’s works, both in theory and in artistic representation, is that in order to evolve, cities are required to completely become disillusioned with past tradition and culture. He envisioned this new industrial epoch only realized if humans were able to free themselves from the tenure of historic classicism and insignificant decoration. For this exact reason, Sant’ Elia had embraces new building materials and technologies in his revolutionary rendering titled Città Nuova with the use of iron and concrete that had no connection to any prior tradition.
Stella, had similar beliefs but recognized that historicism was rooted in religious institutions.The ornamentation of classicism engulfed cathedrals, churches, and places of worship. Stella perceived the pace of modernism and foreshadowed the centrality of “the machine” in future society slowly releasing religious affiliation.
To summarize Stella’s Futurist ideals, I shall end with a quote.
“I have seen the future and it is good. We will wipe away the religions of old and start anew.”