Les mots en liberté futuristes (Futurist Words in Freedom), published in 1919, has an ingenious typographic design and an explosive layout. Its different styles and sizes of typeface defied traditional rules of structure and punctuation and heralded a revolution in modern visual communication.
This pocket-sized portfolio is a mini-anthology of the writing and typographic experiments of Italian poet and theorist Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876–1944). In 1909, Marinetti published an essay in a French newspaper shocking the world and launching Futurism, Italy’s most notable art movement of modern times. His Futurist Manifesto, a celebration of change, violence, youth and technology, called for nothing less than a total revolution in art and design. Its harsh and stirring words mandated the destruction of outdated assumptions about vision and language. It also implored artists, poets, and designers to unite in creating a modern aesthetic that could articulate the new realities of a scientific, industrialized twentieth century.
The visually strikingly graphic concepts that were developed, christened “les mots en liberté” (words in freedom) by Marinetti, introduced a powerful technique for representing the noisy energy of twentieth-century life. With great ingenuity, Futurist artists created dynamic typographic compositions intended to evoke an emotional reaction from the reader-viewer. Free, dynamic, staccato words could be given the velocity of trains, waves, explosives and airplanes. Words were not only used to convey thought, they became part of the design. The method and formal composition of this work were widely imitated and became remarkably influential in modernist print and the emerging culture of the European avant-garde.
Les mots en liberté futuristes, both written and designed by Marinetti, represents a high point of futurist typographic experimentation, and showcases his genius as a designer and visual poet. It was a pioneering example of what is known as visual or concrete poetry, in which avant-garde artists have harnessed typography and page layout for expressive purposes.*
*Analyzed by the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum.