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Immagine e somiglianza (Image and likeness)

Immagine e somiglianza (Image and likeness)
(ii) titled and dated ‘1976 IMMAGINE E SOMIGLIANZA’ (on the reverse)
(iii) signed, titled and dated ‘1976 alighiero e boetti IMMAGINE E SOMIGLIANZA' (on the reverse)
ballpoint pen on card, in three parts
each: 39 1⁄8 x 27 1⁄2in. (99.4 x 69.9cm.)
overall: 39 1⁄8 x 82 1⁄2in. (99.4 x 209.7cm.)
Executed in 1976
Private Collection, Italy.
Private Collection, Italy (acquired from the above in 1994).
Anon. sale, Christie's London, 16 October 2015, lot 122.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
J.C. Ammann, Alighiero Boetti catalogo generale, vol. II, Milan 2012, no. 785 (illustrated in colour with incorrect medium, p. 221).
Frankfurt, Museum für Moderne Kunst, Alighiero Boetti: Mettere al mondo il mondo, 1998, p. 331. This exhibition later travelled to Frankfurt, Galerie Jahrhunderthalle Hoechst.
Special notice
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent. This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.
Further details
This work is registered in the Archivio Alighiero Boetti, Rome, under no. 1839 and is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity.

Brought to you by

Keith Gill
Keith Gill Head of Department

Lot Essay

Spanning more than two metres across, Immagine e somiglianza (Image and likeness) (1976) is an elegant example of Alighiero Boetti’s acclaimed biro works, or lavori biro. Distinguished by their velvety, richly-textured fields of colour created with the humble medium of ballpoint pen, this series furthered Boetti’s career-long exploration of linguistic, numerical and visual systems of understanding. The present lavoro biro is a triptych, with each panel filled with dense strokes of peacock-blue ink and punctuated by small, bright white commas. Seemingly scattered at random, the commas are in fact placed so as to correspond to particular letters in the alphabetic key that runs down the composition’s left-hand side. Reading from left to right, the viewer is able to gradually decipher the coded text, which spells out the title Immagine e somiglianza. Each panel contains a single word; the central panel holds just one comma, for e, adrift in a sea of blue. While this semiotic game toys with the breakdown and building of words, the title foregrounds a question of ‘image and likeness’ that was central to Boetti’s art. Can language—alongside the other representations, images and artificial structures by which we map and make sense of the world—impose order on the complexities of reality?

Boetti first conceived the lavori biro in 1972. While he planned each work’s layout, its actual production was left to a group of collaborators: he used a similar method in his embroidered Arazzi and Mappe series, which were designed by him but fabricated by skilled Afghan weavers. Through these collective, network-based projects, Boetti sidestepped the traditional post of the artist as supreme genius, relinquishing control over the final product. He found magic in the disjunct between his idea of an artwork and its ultimate execution—viewing the two as separate, contiguous realities—and embraced the unpredictable outcomes of chance, error and the different hands involved. For the lavori biro, he employed students from his local neighbourhood of Trastevere in Rome. Following a set of instructions, these anonymous assistants would spend countless hours filling the large panels with serried bands of hatching: a time-intensive process which Boetti felt was intrinsic to the works’ impact. Alternating panels were coloured by members of the opposite sex. Each section of Immagine e somiglianza is imbued with the distinctive rhythm of its maker, whose idiosyncrasies result in undulating shifts and pulses of texture across the composition. These variations might be born of any number of factors, from the speed, pressure and length of an individual’s stroke to their temperament on a given day, and the gradual fading of pigment as pens run dry and are replaced. The final work exhibits a polyphonic visual splendour. The white commas dance like a constellation, a musical score, or a series of raindrops amid a shimmering blue sky.

As we decode Immagine e somiglianza’s title, Boetti’s scheme of encryption and the Latin alphabet itself emerge as equally artificial systems. By disrupting and restaging a set of rules that we take for granted, he reminds us that there might be innumerable other ways through which to correspond with reality. As with much of Boetti’s art, the work is guided by his overarching principle of ordine e disordine: the notion that a global state of equilibrium is created by the constant flux between ‘order and disorder.’ Boetti saw these energies as interacting to reach an overall harmony, like a river whose unity is born of continual flow and change, or like the currents of texture that stream together to form the surface of the present work. He found this duality within the self, as well as in his collaborative projects. He trained himself to write and draw ambidextrously; to make I Gemelli, a 1968 double self-portrait, he manipulated photographs so as to appear to be holding hands with an identical twin; in 1972, he renamed himself Alighiero e Boetti (‘Alighiero and Boetti’), at once uniting and separating his public and private personas. With its collaborative conception probing the space between ‘image and likeness,’ Immagine e somiglianza speaks to such subtle plays of similarity, difference and doubling, encouraging us to imagine new ways of seeing the world and ourselves.

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