UMBERTO BOCCIONI, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, 1913 cast 1931). Bronze, approx. 431/3" high. The Museum of Modern rt, New York, (acquired through the Lillie P Bliss Bequest)
As we might expect, sculpture invited abstraction as did painting; many Cubists and Futurists were both sculptors and painters, and their abstractive methods, allowing for the physical differences of the media, were much the same. UMBERTO BOCCIONI (1882-1916) applied to sculpture the representational technique of Balla. What we want, he claimed, is not fixed movement in space, but the sensation of motion itself: "Owing to the persistence of images on the retina, objects in motion are multiplied and distorted, following one another like waves in space. Thus, a galloping horse has not four legs, it has twenty." Though Boccioni in this instance was talking about painting, his observation helps us to comprehend what is perhaps the definitive work of Futurist sculpture, his Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (figure above).
Unique Forms calls attention to the formal and spatial effects of motion rather than to the fact that the source for these is the striding human figure. The "figure" is so expanded, interrupted, and broken in plane and contour that it disappears, as it were, behind the blur of its movement; only the blur remains. Boccioni's search for plastic means with which to express dynamic movement reaches a monumental expression here. In its power and sense of vital activity, this sculpture surpasses similar efforts in painting (by Boccioni and his Futurist companions) to create images symbolic of the dynamic quality of modern life. To be convinced by it, we need only reflect on how details of an adjacent landscape appear in our peripheral vision when we are traveling at great speed on a highway or in a low-flying airplane. Although Boccioni's figure bears a curious resemblance to the ancient Nike of Samothrace (figure on the left below), a cursory comparison reveals how far the modern work departs from the ancient one. ut the representation of motion in sculpture reaches a limit here with Boccioni. After all, the piece itself does not move (It would be the motion picture, operating by rapid changes fixed images, that would produce convincing of movement.) Sculpture composed of actually moving parts, like a machine, would be designed by Alexander Calder and would make no pretense (figure on the right below) and would make no pretense of "representing" any movement other than its own.