Lot 12
  • 12

Giacomo Balla

2,000,000 - 3,000,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Giacomo Balla
  • Rumoristica plastica Baltrr
  • Signed, titled and inscribed Rumoristica plastica Baltrr Balla Futurista and dated 1914 (lower left)
  • Ink, collage and mixed-media on paper laid down on linen
  • 45 3/4 by 38 1/2 in.
  • 116 by 98 cm


Eredi Palla (daughter of the artist)

Galerie Tarica, Paris (acquired from the above)

Acquired from the above by the present owners


Turin, Galleria Civica Arte Moderna, Giacomo Balla, 1963, no. 265, illustrated in the catalogue

Rome, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, Giacomo Balla, 1971-72, no. 45, illustrated in the catalogue

New York, Finch College Museum & Instituto Italiano di Cultura, Italian Visual Poetry, 1912-1972, 1973, illustrated in the catalogue (with the date 1917-1918)

Milan, Palazzo Reale, Bocconi e il suo tempo, 1973-74, no. 309

Dusseldorf, Stadtische Kunsthalle, Futurismus 1909-1917, 1974, no. 12

Turin, Galeria Civica d'Arte Moderna & Mole Antonelliana, Ricostruzione futurista dell'universo, 1980, illustrated in the catalogue

Marseille, Centre de la Vieille Clarité, Poesure et peintrie, 1993, illustrated in color in the catalogue

Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie, Magie der Zahl, 1997, no. 23, illustrated in color in the catalogue

Genova, Palazzo Ducale & Milan, Fondazione Mazzotta, Futurismo, I Grandi Temi, 1909-1944, 1997-98, no. 3/17, illustrated in color in the catalogue

Lausanne, Fondation de l'Hermitage, Futurisme, 1998, illustrated in color in the catalogue

Hannover, Sprengelmuseum, Der Larm Der Strasse, 2001, illustrated in color in the catalogue

Rome, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Furutismo, 2001, illustrated in color in the catalogue

Vienna, Kunstforum, Futurismo, Radikale Avant Garde, 2003, illustrated in color in the catalogue

Barcelona, Museu d'art contemporani, Arte y utopia, la accion restringada, 2004-05, illustrated in color in the catalogue

Toronto, Musée Royale de l'Ontario; Montreal, Musée des Beaux-Arts & Trento, Museo di Arte Moderna, Il Modo Italiano, 2006-07, illustrated in color in the catalogue

Milan, Palazzo Reale, Balla, la modernità futurista, 2008, illustrated in the catalogue


Maria Drudi Gambillo & Teresa Fiori, Archivi del Futurismo, vol. II, Rome, 1962, no. 81, illustrated p. 85

Maurizio Fagiolo dell'Arco, Futur Balla, Rome, no. 116 (titled Il linguaggio)

M. Caruso, Tavole aprolibere futuriste, Naples, 1974, illustrated p. 57

Angelo Bozzolla & Caroline Tisdall, Futurism, London, 1977

Enrico Crispolti, Il Futurismo e Roma, Rome, 1978

Giovanni Lista, Balla, Modena, 1982, no. 407, illustrated

Giovanni Lista, Le Livre Futuriste, de la liberation du mot au poemetactile, Modena 1984, no. 93, illustrated p. 49

Giovanni Lista, Futurism, Paris, 2002, illustrated in color p. 7

Enrico Crispolti, Ricostruzione futurista dell'universo, exhibition catalogue, Torino, 1980 Giovanni Lista, Balla, Modena, 1982, no. 407, illustrated

Christine Poggi, In Defiance of Painting: Cubism, Futurism and the Invention of Collage, New Haven, 1993, no. 126, illustrated in color p. 217

Catalogue Note

Giacomo Balla created Rumoristica plastica BALTRR in 1914, during the high point of Futurist experimentation with free-word poetry, collage, and theatrical performance.  Inspired by F.T. Marinetti’s literary manifestos of 1912 to 1914 that  announced the invention of parole-in-libertà (free word poetry), poets and artists began to experiment with an accelerated form of writing and its dynamic appearance on the page.  In the “Technical Manifesto of Futurist Literature” of 1912, Marinetti declared that he was “taking dictation” from a mechanical muse, the whirling propeller of a biplane, to advocate the destruction of syntax, the exclusive use of infinitive verbs, and the suppression of adjectives, adverbs, and conjunctions that slow the course of language.  In their place he demanded the abrupt juxtaposition of analogical words, the use of synchronic charts and numerical signs to sum up or multiply effects, and expressively deformed and varied typography.  He further praised the resources of free orthography and onomatopoeia as means of enhancing the visual and aural immediacy of words.  Beginning in 1913, Marinetti gave dramatic oral performances of parts of his free-word poem, Zang Tumb Tumb, (an account of the siege of Adrianople in Turkey during the Balkan War of 1912), in Futurist serate (theatrical evenings) throughout Italy and elsewhere; at the same time, individual sections of the text began to appear in the Futurist journal Lacerba.  By 1914, when the full poem was published, the pages of Lacerba were animated by the presence of numerous free-word poems, free-word drawings, and collages that re-circulated fragments of Marinetti’s Zang Tumb Tumb along with other bits of text and images.  Carlo Carrà’s Free-Word Painting: Patriotic Festival of July 1914 included several sections of Marinetti’s poem along with newspaper advertisements and hand-drawn elements and words, all organized around a central fulcrum (Marinetti’s whirling propeller), inscribed with the words “Aviator” “Beat the Record” and “Perforating Propellers.”  This collage exists as an independent work of art, but it was also reproduced in Lacerba in July 1914.  Gino Severini’s Serpentine Dance, a free-word drawing that employs words and onomatopoeic sounds to convey sensations of color, movement, and sound, was also published in Lacerba.  Relatively small, these works were attuned to the size and format of a sheet of drawing paper or a page of newspaper.

            In contrast, Balla’s Rumoristica plastica BALTRR reveals its pictorial ambitions by taking on the large scale of mural painting.  This work is meant to be viewed on a wall, rather than held in the hand and read.  Executed out of variously colored inks, pasted papers, and watercolor, it integrates words and letters evoking onomatopoeic sounds into a unified visual structure.  Rumoristica plastica BALTRR can also be aligned with the medium of painting because it eschews mechanically printed texts for hand-drawn letters and the tactile qualities of cut and pasted papers.  Yet the work is also diagrammatic, including gray paper swirls and vectors that trace lines of movement, several wedges of tan paper at the top that enhance the flow of energy from left to right, and a series of orange paper circles whose trajectory we are directed to follow (the words “seguire circoli” appears at the lower center.)

            Balla’s collage poem mobilizes these varied elements to tell the story of his attempt to visit the Czech artist Rougena Zatkova, one of his students.[i]  Finding that the keys didn’t open the door, he entered through a window on an upper floor, descended the inner stairway, and opened the door with the keys from the inside.  The orange dots indicate the artist’s path, which leads him up the stairs signified by the sounds of his creaking shoes: taaa, teeech, tieeech, tech, tach, tech, tich…  The pattern then grows more dynamic and illogical; a question mark rises just before the short vertical stripe of gray paper adjacent to the central line, representing the impediment of the locked door.  Is it an “O” or a zero that accompanies this question mark?  The artist then reverses his steps and catapults himself into the air like a ball (the word BALLUALTO at the far left evokes both “Balla” and “Ball”; ALTO signifies “high”); the arrow points to a curved row of orange circles marking the site of his passage through the upper window.  Landing with the sound PLANTLAN, he then descends—tech.., tich, tich…tech, tech…tlech, plep plip, plop, plap…  to the level of the door.  Shiny metallic blue and vermillion vectors signify the keys opening the door from the inside; the word APERTO (OPEN), (with the letters PERTO contained with the profile of an acute A), points to the keyhole where the metallic sound of the turning keys emerges as CRZT.  The composition as a whole enacts the story it tells: climbing steps occurs by means of circles that get progressively smaller along with the letters evoking creaking sounds; the dynamic flow of vaulting into the air figures through rapidly changing curves and lines of flight; and the descent back to the ground level becomes visible through the accelerated rhythm of steps and a pattern of sounds on smaller stairs (which are thus represented as farther away).  In this pictorial free-word poem, noisy forms (rumoristica plastica) convey the essence of a simple action, realizing its multiple sensations and intersecting narrative arcs through the visual figuration of movement and sound. 

Sotheby's would like to thank Christine Poggi, Professor of Modern and Contemporary art at the University of Pennsylvania, for writing the entry for the present work.


[i]Giovanni Lista published this interpretation, given to him by Balla’s daughters Luce and Elica, in: Le livre futuriste de la liberation du mot au poème tactile (Lausanne: L’Age d’Homme, 1987), 44.  This episode is also recounted in Fabio Benzi, Giacomo Balla: Genio futurista (Milan: Mondadori, 2007), 145, note 75, although he gives it a mystical meaning.