The movement was launched in the tertulias of Madrid's Café Colonial, presided by Rafael Cansinos-Assens. The Ultraist core was formed, among others, by Guillermo de Torre, Juan Larrea, Gerardo Diego and the Argentine Jorge Luis Borges, who lived in Madrid at the time.
In the trend of Russian and Italian futurism, Dadaism and French surrealism, the Ultraist movement, which ended in 1922 with the cessation of the journal Ultra, proposed an aesthetic change, less ambitious than that of surrealism, trying to extend to all arts and to daily life itself. The Ultraists departed completely from the mannerisms and opulence of Modernism. Ultraist poetry is characterized by evocative imagery, references to the modern world and new technologies, elimination of rhyme, and creative graphic treatment of the layout of poetry in print, in an attempt to fuse the plastic arts and poetry. Ultraism was influenced in part by Symbolism and by the Parnassians.
In an article published by Nosotros magazine (Buenos Aires, 1922), Borges summarized Ultraist goals thus:
The expression "ornamental artifacts" was clearly a reference to Rubén Darío's modernism, which the Ultraists considered over-ornamented and lacking in substance. The Ultraist movement agreed with other avant-garde movements in its elimination of sentimentalism.
Ultraism was akin to the creacionismo of the Chilean poet Vicente Huidobro, who met with the Ultraists in their tertulias. Huidobro proposed that a poem should always be a new object, distinct from the rest, which must be created "like nature creates a tree" — a position that implied freedom of the poem from reality, including the inner reality of the author.