Fortunato Depero, Grattacieli e Tunnel (New York, 1930)


Grattacieli e Tunnel is a 1930 tempera on cardboard, cm 68 x 102 cm, painting, which Fortunato Depero realised during his stay in New York. It is a cm 68 x 102 preamble to the new wave of Futurist architecture culminating in the 1934 Manifesto futurista dell'architettura aerea by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Angiolo Mazzoni and Mino Somenzi. This new Manifesto will join together the Sant'Elia architectural drawings with the new interest for aerial views and perspectives. Grattacieli e Tunnel can be situated at the juncture between the first and the second phase of Futurist architecture.

Main Principles

  1. A New Theorization of the Relationship Between Subjectivity and Objectivity

  2. The Rationalization of Aesthetics: the Straight Line

In Grattacieli e Tunnel the vertical tensions and elevations of the futurist skyscraper by Antonio Sant'Elia (1914) have been replaced by a striking chromatographic play and a more organic distribution of circular spaces and volumes upon naked facades. The composition does not have a central protagonist, the viewer's subjectivity has been repositioned by elements that clash together and, simultaneously, remain aerially suspended and intact in an anti-naturalistic rendering of reality. The viewer, the subject, is given a preferred entry point through the tunnels (the arrow in the left-hand tunnel) to the mystery of the construction of reality, which in the early 1930 could also be a mystery perhaps hidden in any social apparatus. The grattacieli themselves are not as linear, because the idea of unlimited progress in the thirties was vanishing rapidly, leaving behind traces of a force, that seems to sustain the overall composition of the elements encapsulated in the painting. The overall symmetry, however, is linear (see the circles at the bottom repeated on the top) and, more importantly, follows a vertical trajectory. This vertical symmetry is what controls the image, which has at its centre a spiralling 'chaos': the rationalising aesthetics of the straight line encapsulate in this painting by Depero the inner turmoil of a centrifugal subjective gaze. The chaos of the avant-gardes is still there in the unstable, centre-bending skyscrapers, but it is channelled by underground mysterious tunnels across clear pathways and captivating wheels rotating in circular movements.

Depero's rendering of skyscraper in the thirties shows that there was a clear transition in the special aesthetics and politics of crowd management. In the Thirties the grattacielo was less tall, it was a less powerful building, since it was no longer moving towards the sky but towards a collective representation of the everyday. The freedom of the aerial pan-dynamism and of the oggetto-ambiente was no longer there, for it had been replaced by a rotating, circular routine, spiralling into what was soon to become chaos. In other words, in the thirties the avant-garde had to come to terms with popular culture in both aesthetic and political matters and it did so by re-employing Futurist aesthetics of modernity to enact a more popular and less elitist process of social modernisation. Thus the novelty of Depero's skyscraper is not to be found in any architectural sedimentation, but rather in how he borrowed elements from popular culture (chromatisms and general diagonal lines and perspective which he had used in advertising) to reflect the social practices of individual and cultural industries, which were not previously part of the Futurists' sphere of intervention.


Scudiero, Maurizio and David Leiber. 1986. Depero futurista & New York. Rovereto: Longo Editore.