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Depero Futurista: a 1927 avant-garde masterpiece to admire

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visual tour de force filled with groundbreaking typographic experiments and bold explorations in nearly every art and design medium, including advertising and the form of the book itself, Depero Futurista (Depero the Futurist) is widely recognized as the first modern-day artist’s book and thanks to the uber-successful Kickstarter campaign is alive and kicking.

Known as “The Bolted Book” because of its famous binding using two aluminum industrial bolts, Depero Futurista was conceived in 1927 by the Italian Futurist Fortunato Depero.

Both a showcase for Depero’s work and a platform for his iconoclastic ideas, the book which is about to remind us the artistry of a genius. Before artists like Andy Warhol blurred the lines between commercial and fine art before there were zines that questioned the concept of the printed page, Fortunato Depero (Trento, Italy, 1892–1960) conceived it all with The Bolted Book.

“Depero is a truly contemporary figure,” says Heather Ewing, CIMA’s (Center for Italian Modern Art) Executive Director. “In a way that seems perfectly in tune with global trends today, he embraced the cult of modernity and technology, seeing cities and advertising as high art forms in and of themselves. He developed a unique voice that married the mechanical with the fantastical. His work – and way of working – are as relevant today as they were innovative a century ago.”

Issued in a limited edition (planned to be 1,000 copies but never fully realized), the very rare original Depero Futurista can be found primarily in the permanent collections of major museums and libraries worldwide. “Making this landmark work widely available to a current generation of designers, artists, and admirers of the art of the book is an exciting and important development for design history” affirms Ewing. Yet, why the Bolted Book still deserves attention now.

Why does something from that far, distant past still resonate with the present? Steve Kroeter offers his own insights.

“There are several reasons, all of which are related to the very special way that Depero looked at the world and navigated through it:

1. He was an activist who wanted to reconstruct the world and co-authored manifestos declaring exactly that.

2. His maker interests knew no bounds: painting, sculpture, architecture, fashion, graphic design, interior design, product design, set design, costume design---on and on.

3. He was an author and poet who was compelled to communicate.

4. He embraced the fine arts but was equally passionate about the applied and commercial arts and popular culture, including advertising.

5. He believed in assuming primary responsibility for explaining and promoting one’s own work.

6. He worked in partnership with his wife and in collaboration with the female artisans she recruited and managed.

So The Bolted Book (or more poetically, Depero Futurista) is Depero---in type laid out in circles, squares, and triangles on paper of different colors and textures with two holes drilled clean though---outlining his plan for re-shaping the world.”

We can look at his proclamations and exhortations from 1927 and be reminded, once again, that the way of the world that we live in now does not necessarily bear much resemblance at all to the way the world will be after we get done with it. As Jonathan Keats wrote in an article noting the 100th anniversary of Futurism:

“We are living in his (Depero’s) reconstructed universe.”

A painter, sculptor, and graphic artist, who also produced textiles, furnishings, exposition pavilions, theater props, sets for dance, and children’s toys, Depero had embraced the modernist movement Futurism by 1913 and he coauthored the manifesto “Futurist Reconstruction of the Universe” with painter Giacomo Balla in 1915.

Published in Milan in 1927 by the painter-aviator Fedele Azari, who on an introductory page described it as “a mechanical book bolted down like an engine” Depero Futurista aka The Bolted Book summed up Depero’s attempt to challenge the very structure of the medium itself.

Dubbed “a typographical racing car” by Futurism’s founder, F. T. Marinetti Depero Futurista included were reproductions of Depero’s drawings, paintings, and sculptures, as well as photographs of exhibition installations of his work, sketches of costumes for the first ballet without human dancers, designs for pillows, and numerous statements, reviews and manifestos.

The book in particular highlights Depero’s work in graphic design and typography, including his well-known advertisements for the Italian apéritifCampari, logos, and his “visual-verbal” experiments with type, which aimed to liberate language from conventional rules.

Depero took The Bolted Book with him on his first trip to New York in 1928, where it served as a business card for securing design work and “portable museum” (when the bolts were removed, the pages could be pinned up on a wall, exhibition style). He was the only Futurist ever to live in New York City and while there, he produced graphic designs and covers for publications such as Vogue, Vanity Fair, and The New Yorker.

This long-unavailable, landmark avant-garde example of the “book as object” which was published  in 2017 by Designers & Books in collaboration with the Center for Italian Modern Art in New York and the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Trento and Rovereto, Italy has sold out and is currently out of print.

But we urge you to visit the book's official page and explore all  240 pages of the original 1927 book here.        

All Images from Depero Futurista, Dinamo-Azari, Milan, Italy, 1927. © 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY / SIAE Rome. The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Trento and Rovereto. Photographs of Depero Futurista details are courtesy of Designers & Books. Book exterior photographs by Adam Reich; book interior photographs by Jason Burch.