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Art Through Time: A Global View

Writing Art: Book Cover for Zang Tumb Tumb

» Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (Italian, 1876–1944)

Book Cover for Zang Tumb Tumb

Book Cover for Zang Tumb Tumb
Artist / Origin: Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (Italian, 1876–1944)
Region: Europe
Date: 1914
Period: 1900 CE – 2010 CE
Material: Type on colored paper
Medium: Calligraphy, Illumination, and Illustrated Books
Dimensions: H: 8 1/16 in. (20.4 cm.), W: 5 5/16 in. (13.5 cm.)
Location: Private Collection
Credit: © 2009 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/SIAE, Rome. Courtesy of Bridgeman Art Library

Filippo Tommaso Marinetti was a poet and political activist who founded and led the Italian Futurist movement, which celebrated technology, industry, speed, and progress.

Marinetti often expressed himself with hyper-masculine bravado, romanticizing violence and advocating radical, if unrealistic, action. He urged, for example, that the museums and libraries of Italy be destroyed on the basis that they belonged to the past rather than the future. Soon after Marinetti published his first Futurist Manifesto in 1909, the movement expanded to include painting, sculpture, and theater, in addition to poetry and political writing. Although Marinetti remained a writer, he began to work in a new format called parole in libertà (“words in freedom”) that employed creative and experimental typography.

Zang Tumb Tumb is a dynamically organized book in which Marinetti recounts his experiences reporting from the front during the Balkan War of 1912. On the cover, seen here, the author’s name and the book’s publishing information are presented in a rather straightforward manner and the title appears in larger type than other words. Little else about the cover meets expectation, however. Text indicating the place and time of the fighting (Adrianople, October 1912) runs horizontally across the middle; other textual information is manipulated into arcs and receding lines. The words parole in libertà are cut through with a series of nonsensical “tuuumbs.”

Consistent with his Futurist ideals, Marinetti puts particular emphasis on new, technologically advanced, mechanical weapons. The words running askew in all different directions visualize the chaos of flying bullets, while the repetition of onomatopoeic words evokes the din of the battlefield. Within the pages of the book, this dynamic typographical design continues. Historians have criticized Marinetti for his uncompassionate enthusiasm for war, as well as for his troublesome political associations with Fascist leader Benito Mussolini, beginning several years after he wrote Zang Tumb Tumb.

Expert Perspective:
Sylvia Wolf, Director of the Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington, Seattle

“The idea of what constitutes meaning is crucial in this discussion of art and the written word. When I try and trace how did it come about that artists began using words as evocative of ideas by abstracting them from their narrative function or from their job as text and description, I go back to 1888. And I go to the advent of the half-tone printing process, when for the first time visual or images and words could be reproduced en masse to be broadly disseminated. And then the Kodak Number One camera was invented, and at that point everybody could make images, not just painters or professional photographers.

And in the twenties and the thirties, when you move through Cubism, Dadaism, Surrealism, and Futurism, all of them are heavily dependent on language and words and images for any number of different reasons, and the collision of what happens when you put these things together in a fashion that is out of the norm, they no longer become information in the manner in which we were used to.”

Additional Resources

Apollonio, Umbro. Futurist Manifestos. London: Tate Publishing, 2009.

Bohn, Willard. The Aesthetics of Visual Poetry, 1914–1928. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.

Cohen, Ester, et al. Futurism. Milan: 5 Continents Editions, 2009.

Drucker, Johanna. The Visible Word: Experimental Typography and Modern Art, 1909–1923. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997.

Humphreys, Richard. Futurism (Movements in Modern Art). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Perloff, Marjorie. The Futurist Movement: Avant-Garde, Avant Guerre, and the Language of Rupture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.

Poggi, Christine. Inventing Futurism: The Art and Politics of Artificial Optimism. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008.

“Words in Freedom: Futurism at 100.” In Exhibitions. The Museum of Modern Art Web site.

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Produced by THIRTEEN in association with WNET.ORG. 2009.
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  • ISBN: 1-57680-888-2