1909… The birthdate of Futurism in Italy, under the aegis, or the proposition, of Marinetti. To us wit would represent more a cultural appeal, let’s say, rather than an urgency for renewal in the Arts! This founder of Futurism, “a supporter of speed, youth, technology, violence” (as described in a famous Manifesto from that time), remained debatable among some of us Italians.

France had also considered recognizing this “Italian Futurism” but decided not to, calling it “a fanatical, religious and snobbish religion without any sense.”

Marinetti’s Futurism was a useless and superfluous discussion for me and my contemporaries of the early 20th century. But we lived through it without even realizing it!! One felt a change in the air; a necessity for the rejuvenation of new shapes and forms revisited with a different perspective. Marinetti’s Futurism would be acknowledged, judged and rejected by my generation of 1909; maybe because of its violence and degradation towards the history of Italian art, this majestic heritage that had been part of our culture for generations and that had our enduring respect born out of an unforgettable environment. But out of it came something worth discussing.
Futurism’s attraction was its revolutionary courage, though it was more destructive than creative. In fact, it could offer nothing more than its desire to denigrate and destroy. My generation took notice and evaluated it but could also tell the difference and remained skeptical.

The proclamation in Balla’s Manifesto of 1910 would be considered rhetorical and violent. Nor did we see in its proposals either symbolic fruits or flowers to compare with the Cubism of Paris. We already had a Carra’, a Boccioni, a Segantini with a suggestion of Pointillism, but these appeared to be slow and confusing movements when compared with the suggestions of “violence, refusal, war!” expressed by the Futurism of Marinetti. (Severini disliked Futurism and thought it was rhetorical.)

I had the opportunity to meet Marinetti. He had been invited to speak on this movement he undoubtedly believed in at the club Casino di Lettura, in the foyer out of the Chiabrera Theatre of Savona. The invitation came at the initiative of my father who was President of the Club and who was always open to cultural happenings that might have a potential interest to the general public. Be it a composer or a lecturer or a painter, it was customary for my family to host the guest in our home the evening before the event, for a more personal and intimate meeting. And so it was that among the various names who sat at our table at Via Paleocapa #3-3, one could also find F.T. Marinetti’s. I was very young when I had this opportunity to listen to him speak (and then share the experience with my girlfriends at school the next day where they became

particularly captivated by the “taste of war” that infused his proposals). At that moment his thoughts and ideas seemed moderately revolutionary, but in reality they were stuffed with a strange philosophy. I think I remember that he had already positioned himself with a particular political party which he would eventually abandon (or from which he was abandoned). This was followed by an evening at the Universita Popolare which would have a more heated tone and sound even more against the norm.

I remember how Apollinaire, an important art critic, born Italian but educated in France, at first acknowledged Italian Futurism but then rejected it. If Futurism proposed something, what did it actually give? Again, it seemed to many of us more of an opposition or denial rather than a renewal of feelings and of form. The past was spoken about with negativity but no one defined nor glorified “the new”, the original, maybe courageous and necessary for the generations to come. So while elsewhere the new names were creating with a suffering passion, here by us we…were hesitating!

In fact, enthusiasts of Simultaneity had already appeared in France at the end of the previous century, where the object was proposed, suggested, observed and revisited in numerous positions in space and different solutions of its way of existing and appearing to us. It gave a voice to indelible names like Braque, Picasso, Leger, Gris; and progressively to the new and courageous way of thinking. To these movements from beyond the Alps, the discovery of African art had also been very important!

For the public at large the term “Futurism” signified the crazy, the strange, the unacceptable and the negative! But in Italy there were the Italians! And a second Futurism came to be, late but authentic and sincerely lived.

Albisola

Only for Albisola, I would say Futurism, even if whispered quasi jokingly, had a positive aspect. Something had been stirred and reawakened. Maybe because of its proximity to the somewhat static and sleepy Savona, Albisola had become a bit sleepy too. With the need for a change in the atmosphere, Albisola took advantage of these stirrings.
However, what remained of the movement, in Albisola, was almost exclusively the name, like a banner: a sort of Futurism within a long tradition of time-tested values, so that what “was” can also become what “is”.

Did it really matter? What mattered was – and indeed was – Art. And ceramics. And ceramics meant Albisola.

In remembering, I tend to turn more to the names of the “painters” rather than the expert ceramic makers…but weren’t they possibly the same names? They were! They were the artists at the easel as well as on the walls, creators now of interesting, original and precious pieces in the field of artistic ceramics: form and color, creation, sensation and emotion, archaic and current at the same time. It carried the gift of pleasing but also of Art, Trade, Professionalism and a new kind of joyful expression. It was as if the painter and the sculptor had gone on vacation together to sing and relax after difficult and

heavy tasks…and sprouted the ceramic piece! Where would they go to? Certainly to Albisola! Where in Albisola? Well, certainly at the Mazzotti’s in Piazza Pozzo della Garitta!

Like Futurism, I also was born in 1909, in May and in Savona, but with Albisola roots, as the last home still owned by my descendants can attest to, a 16th century house named La Pace. Albisola was one of the “Five Stars” on the Coat of Arms on my family’s paternal side. The family has since died off.

It was at the Mazzotti’s Pozzo della Garitta that I went, at 16, in order to learn their trade; in Albisola Superiore, where flourished the blue and white ceramic style by the master Torido, the so-called “gavottiane” of his father. (I have one!) And something else different was already emerging.
From those early days of 16 I rediscovered an elegant bowl dated 1925 and a large plate already initialed MGA, with my name on it. They are the only relics from a larger production which has gone missing or shattered over the decades.

But how could I have found the large ceramic brushstroke, bold and essential for decorating murals (often quite large ones), on churches, buildings, airline headquarters, hotels or homes, all in Ethiopia or Eritrea? How could I have filled spaces that were too large and impossible to cover with individual tiles, unless by way of pre-prepared sections? Where on earth if I hadn’t already had on my shoulders that distant beginning in Albisola? These last comments evidently concern that Nenne Poggi, born during the birth of Futurism in 1909, who became capable of ceramic solutions unknown in the African world: by necessity decorations of a sacred character, executed with an archaic flavor, byzantine in style (1960-1970).

Are we talking about me? No! Let us talk about “Them”. “Them”, the best names in the Italian world of art at that time, who were at home at Casa Mazzotti, a place that would become a center for elegance and hospitality over the years. At the Mazzotti’s you breathed in the ceramic air! The first center had been fascinating, filled with clay and fire and a passion for the trade that possessed its surroundings. Nothing less was to be found in the factory-home-museum since 1934; located by the sea, designed by Diulgheroff, and the crib where a second Futurism was born. “They” were Capogrossi, Fabbri, Farfa! And also Sassu and Munari and Scanavino and Trucco and Manzu’, my contemporary, but who arrived to the ceramic ovens of Albisola later, perhaps around 1940.

And the quasi local group of the excellent Gambetta of Genova, also fans of blue ceramics. Servettaz, De Salvo, maybe also Collina. And even Fontana, whom I often met in Milano circa 1936-37, as we were connected through our mutual friendships with the Albini family (Franco Albini later became a very reputable architect with whom I would also work). When I think of Fontana I still see him in his jacket, hands in the pockets, reddenned from the cold Milan winter. He was the sweetheart of my best friend, and I could already see his great potential from one of his very first exhibits long ago, 1928 I think. I know that in 1936-37 he executed for the

Mazzotti’s a series of precious ceramic pieces. He certainly had left behind the early difficult years by the time I happened to see in the 1970s a very important exhibition of his Spatial Concept or slash series at the Guggenheim that had made him famous. (And I felt great joy remembering his years of silent struggles for survival in Milano, upon returning from Argentina, I think.) He was surely talented. His solutions could not be imitated. Fontana’s Slashes could only be his!

Also Arturo Martini was at home at the Mazzotti’s. (I still have his “Head of a Russian Dancer”, though the only Russian thing about her is the fur hat as she smiles to herself.) He had ties to the painter, Eso Peluzzi, my so-called teacher (he did not like to be called so, even if, upon the insistence of my father, he directed an art school in the City Museum of Savona). Concerning Martini, I was often witness, with deep emotions, to the opening of the ovens in Vado Ligure: great terra cotta statues, among which were “The Dream” (a sleeping girl about which later on I published an article on an Eritrean newspaper), and “The Sisters”. (If I recall well, the name was eventually changed.) The terracottas would come out of the ovens, still hot and alive, of a modern yet classical beauty. They belonged to his best period! And yet Martini didn’t feel confident with his pieces. He would sometimes complain about how it was too easy for him to create his pieces. “It’s not possible. It is too easy. A piece of art has to be a hard and painful task,” he would say, while for him it seemed as easy as talking. Yet, at other times he would magnify his work. He would ask, “Who is the greatest sculptor?” to the children who would know to respond, screaming “Martini!” (20 cents to everyone.) At the Mazzotti’s he produced also pieces of less importance, but still always ala “Martini”.

In Albisola on the Capo beaches – before the second wave of Futurism – one could also meet that young Manzoni, who would become famous for his “Merde d’Artiste”, preserved in a precious jar. For a few years his works became more important than the one by the other Manzoni, the famous “The Betrothed”, a masterpiece of Italian literature and obligatory school subject. I don’t remember if he did ceramics in Albisola, maybe at Capo, but he could not have been anything but Marinettian.

I met and came to know and work with all these artists, or most of them, during the decades before and after two wars and my African period.

On my last day of vacation in Italy I was in Albisola. Upon entering the home-studio- store of Mazzotti, where a pretty woman employee thought I was a purchaser for sure, I asked if I could say hello to Tullio Mazzotti. “Do you have an appointment?” she asked. I didn’t. But without giving my name I mentioned that I was leaving the next day for Africa. At which the pretty woman opened a door and in her dialect, in a loud voice, announced “Tullio, The young woman, Poggi, is here!” Let’s just say that few reunions would have pleased us both as much. Yes, the entire encounter was about our exhumed youth, about the fascination with the times at Pozzo-Garitta of Main Albisola. It was about that atmosphere of clay, wood, fire and love for that noble work, almost never repetitive but recreated always, re-invented and unique for each plate and each bowl. Then there was the rise into the world of Futurism, 1st or 2nd, and thea harmony of an entire community of artists whom he had facilitated and supported; and I shared my achievements, in far-away lands. It was a delightful human contact, recalling names, atmospheres and times (and that 16 year old Ms. Poggi, , who today is 100!)

There is still talk that Genova has never been very open to “the new”, unless it referred to financial interests: possibly intellectual only in a rather mediocre way! And yet, aside from the lavishness of her palaces, filled with works of art at the highest levels, including the personal portraits of their owners, Genova, in the 19th century, hosted many representatives of culture in its “Society of Scientific Readings and Conversations”.
Allegedly, the same Marinetti used that site to expound on “The Futuristic Poetry”. I do not know with what success, but he did it! And Pointillism and Divisionism were discussed there, if not yet the new movement in Paris that was Cubism.

As far as literature, in the Mazzini Gallery, which was a refuge for artists, Guido Gozzano would have written a poem while sitting at a cafe’ bar, and you would see Eugenio Montale, the future Genovese Nobel, taking a stroll.

Even as a latecomer, we find Futurism in the home of Paolo Rodocanachi. He was the “Cian” of the group of Ligurian painters that made up the central group of all those artists to be found in his Villa Desinge di Arenzano, where one breathed culture. The paintings of Cian were in reality mostly landscapes. The Ligurian group never abandoned in any significant way the classical lines of a renewed “fin du siecle”. Still, there was a knowledge and a personal contact with Marinetti and Futurism.

My home, like my life, is a wealth of memories. There is that enormous fresco of all those years in Africa, so dense with beauty and emotions (even with the passing of days and years). Emotions, generated by the immensity of the nature that surrounded me, and also by the richness and garish colors of its human contacts, and by the fluidity in living. Then Italian memories also resurface, and they include the house of Rodocanachi, rich with the artistic and literary world of the elite Italy. The Rodocanachi’s provided an incredibly attractive place for the intellectual world; from the Cian’s simple ways of doing things through the hunger for culture from other people that characterized the welcoming consort Lucia (incredible devourer of books and huge correspondent with authors); all this surrounded by Ligurian olive trees!

I don’t remember if there was much point or any great use of that 2nd wave Futurism. It was still the early 20th century, when art, pictorial and literary, were practiced without clear distinctions of categories and with a mix of personalities.

Futurism? Who knows? I know that Marinetti himself had crossed the threshold of that house, but I didn’t hear much talk about him, nor how he was judged. Many had done the same crossing, and the critics, either if they had to be negative or positive, were always welcome, just like the delicious foods offered on snow-white tablecloths.
Artists would speak about artists; something interesting could even be said, but to be exempt of criticism would’ve been very difficult. The atmosphere was nonetheless

pleasing and culturally rich, even if between the artichoke tart and the glass of the house wine something negative managed to slip out.
Albisola! If the Futurism celebrated from 1909 was in reality “l’espace d’un matin” (the space of a morning), as our French neighbors would have said, in Italy – and in Albisola!
– it remained a passionate silence. It had been able to suggest something to future generations….

Author: Nenne Poggi Sanguineti

Translation: Deborah Sanguineti

Longing for blue

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