And Thus we Would set About Seeking an Aeroplane Woman


And Thus we Would set About Seeking an Aeroplane Woman, Bruno Munari, c.1936

The Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art in North London is currently showing Cut & Paste: European Photomontage 1920-1945, and I highly recommend it to graphics lovers, type fanatics, arch-modernists and incurable romantics of all kinds. The last part may seem strange for an exhibition that includes doctored pictures of Hitler and the victims of Madrid, and much revolutionary propaganda and exhortations to Master Technology and Increase the Ranks of Proletarian Specialists, but it’s at the heart of my appreciation.

Coming of age in the 1920s and 30s, photomontage served many masters. The Soviet Union, the Spanish Republic, Swiss Dadaists and Berlin Communists all harnessed its immediacy and ability to transcend time and scale. Lenin, possibly its greatest beneficiary, realised a second life, continuing to tower over the factories long after his death. But the golden period, for me, is in Italy in those central years, when Futurism takes wing and turns to aeropainting and the aesthicisation of gleaming aluminium and the poetry of flight.


L: The poetic joy of flight. R: The Smell of an Aeroplane. Bruno Munari, c.1936

Bruno Munari‘s montages of aeroplanes, bodies and architecture seem to sum up the glorious possibilities and soaring excitement of that time, before Futurism, already utterly and fatally entwined with Italian fascism, was wiped out by the reactionary assault on ‘degenerative art’ from the North. (Photomontage, despite its associations in Italy, was always leftist, and was never used by the Nazis in their propaganda, after initial experimentation.)

Dark days lie ahead – immediately following Munari’s works comes a massive ‘Yes’ to Mussolini, his jacket made up of hundreds of Fascist supporters – but in these small assemblages, as in much of the early-20th Century Italian painting elsewhere in the Estorick’s collection, we see the thrill of a new world taking shape.


In those Days the Aeroplane was Made of Bamboo and Canvas, Bruno Munari, c.1936

Posted October 19, 2008 by James Bridle. Comments Off on And Thus we Would set About Seeking an Aeroplane Woman
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