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Transnational Multimedia: Fortunato Depero’s Impressions of New York City (1928-1930)

  • Author(s): Chiesa, Laura
  • et al.
Abstract

This essay looks at the experimentation done by the Italian futurist Fortunato Depero during his short stay in New York City (1928-1930) and shows how Depero, as a foreigner, experienced the capital of the twentieth century during its making, capturing crucial elements – immigration and plurilingualism, fashion and transnational commerce, the incessant construction of skyscrapers, billboard advertising and cinema, the music hall and its theatrical and delirious scenography. A close, selective reading of Depero’s unfinished project New York–Film Vissuto, shows Depero’s avant-gardist take on this experience and fosters connections and comparisons with other international modernist actors who experienced or lived in the city (Le Corbusier, Frederich Kiesler, Léonide Massine, and Katherine Drier). Depero was in New York during the Great Depression as well as a time when an incredible energy was just starting to crystallize in art, architecture, film, music, and literature. Depero translates bits of experience into different media, creating a maze of artifacts (painting, advertising, poetry, and prose) that, on one hand, communicate among themselves and, on the other hand, show the Babel-like confusion among the different media. Once back in Italy, Depero announced his intention to produce the book New York–Film Vissuto to be accompanied by a phonograph disc. It wasn’t produced; instead Depero, in tune with Futurist radio poetry, edited Liriche Radiofoniche: spare lyrics blending with fleeting and cosmopolitan aspects of the New York cityscape, others apparently glorifying Fascism, and some embedded with sounds and visions of nature. This last group of lyrics bears traces of the natural mountainscape, close to Rovereto, to which Depero returned to live and work. A reading of Depero’s artifacts shows the shock effect at play between earlier avant-garde gestures and the political and capitalistic complex with which he was confronted. Between these poles, and in a very specific moment, Depero plays with wit, capturing, yet displacing and interrupting, the spectacle of the city.

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