The two thousand years separating the Ara Pacis from the Genio Futurista can be brushed aside if gazed upon with the eyes of the artist aiming to "give form to the invisible": beyond its appearance, the Roman altar renders visible the essence of Augustinian genius, just as Balla wished to capture the dynamic image of Italian "genius" embodied by Futurism.
Destiny has decreed that during the Fascist years, Roman and Futurist genius should meet: initially exalted and wooed by the rhetoric of the regime, and then exploited and in substance betrayed by its propaganda. Today, two symbolic works of an era meet once more and new meanings emerge from their proximity.
The word "genius" shares its roots with the Latin gigno (create, generate) and with gens (stock, people). The "genius" – be it of a man or of a nation – presides over life and destiny, continues to live beyond the individual and makes a single people of a community. In the figures portrayed processing across the Ara Pacis, we find the gens Julia, the stock of Casesar and Augustus, destined to convey Rome from republic to empire and ensure its dominion over the world. The Ara Pacis is a paean to the golden age, to the fullness of time offered by Augustus, the moderate prince, who seeks to be respectful of the laws and of tradition. The enchantment did not last long; perhaps its was never true, but under Augustus the Romans learned to pay tribute to the genius of the emperor for the first time in their history.
But it is also true that 2000 years do not pass without leaving trace.
The optimism of the Ara Pacis is expressed through the cyclic time "made visible" by the shoots of acanthus leaves at the base of the Ara, which grow in a spiral and turn on themselves like the time of the seasons and of nature, to infinity. The Augustinian optimism assumes the even-tempered manners of the mature prince, conscious that everything moves forward but also returns and that nothing is lost forever. The optimism of Giacomo Balla´s Italian and Futurist genius appears instead fixed in the instant of apparition, in its explosive expression. It is young energy, captured at source, and which expands and pours outwards. The Futurist Genius speaks to his generation of the force of the here and now.
Two ways of rendering visible the essence of "genius": the pure forms of classicism, the dynamic rush of the avant-garde.