Alighiero Boetti

Alighiero Boetti was an Italian conceptual artist who came to prominence as part of the Arte Povera movement. Known for his arazzi (‘tapestries’), biro works and use of unconventional materials, his art explores the puzzles, contradictions and dualities that define human existence.

Boetti was born in 1940 in Turin. Though he never received formal artistic training, he was fascinated by theories and philosophies of human creativity. His early artworks of the 1960s appropriated quotidian industrial materials, aligning him with fellow Arte Povera exponents such as Michelangelo Pistoletto, Pino Pascali and Jannis Kounellis.

At the same time, Boetti also began to play with basic concepts about language and authorship. Works such as Manifesto, Ping Pong and his Mimetico series were built around games, puns and codes, establishing the playful dialogue between word, image and meaning that would characterise his oeuvre.

In the early 1970s Boetti embarked upon several major new series. The lavori biro, made using a ballpoint pen, consisted of dense rows of crosshatched markings, with blank space left to delineate symbols or words. The arazzi, meanwhile, took the form of embroidered letters arranged in grids, spelling out proverbs, number games, opposing ideas or instances of wordplay.

From these sprung Boetti’s celebrated Mappa series, consisting of embroidered maps of the world. These works charted changing geopolitical tensions between 1971 and 1994, highlighting the perpetual shifting of boundaries. Uniting all these works was a desire to showcase the arbitrariness of the signs and systems that dictate our existence. Boetti regularly returned to his favourite dualism: ‘ordine e disordine’ (‘order and disorder’).

Boetti’s embroidered works also extended his fascination with the creative process. The artist had begun to travel the world during the 1970s and had built relationships with artisanal weavers in Afghanistan and Pakistan. By working in collaboration with these skilled craftswomen, he collapsed the notion of the artwork as a single authoritative gesture. Each tapestry took shape across multiple time zones and geographic territories, bringing together different hands, voices, languages and traditions. Boetti continued to explore ideas of flux and simultaneity in his final embroidery series Tutto, which — together with the Mappe — accounts for some of his top prices at auction.

In 1968, Boetti had staged a double portrait of himself entitled Gemelli, in which he appeared to be holding the hand of his identical twin. He would eventually split his own name in two, restyling himself as ‘Alighiero e Boetti’. Everything, he believed, had its opposing double: sometimes only art could reveal it.

ALIGHIERO BOETTI (1940-1994)

Classifying the Thousand Longest Rivers in the World

ALIGHIERO BOETTI (1940-1994)

Ammazzare il tempo

Alighiero Boetti (1940-1994)

Colonna (Column)

Alighiero Boetti (1940-1994)

Addizione Addition

Alighiero Boetti (1940-1994)

Rosso Gilera 60 1232 - Rosso Guzzi 60 1305

Alighiero Boetti (1940-1994)

Sottrazione Subtraction

Alighiero Boetti (1940-1994)

I sei sensi The Six Senses

ALIGHIERO BOETTI (1940-1994)

Mettere al mondo il mondo (Bringing the world into the world)

Alighiero Boetti (1940-1994)

Mappa del mondo - L'insensata corsa della vita (Map of the World - The nonsensical course of Life)

Alighiero Boetti (1940-1994)

Rosso Gilera 60 1232 Rosso Guzzi 60 1305

ALIGHIERO BOETTI (1940-1994)

(i) Rosso Gilera 60 1232 (ii) Beige Sabbia 583

Alighiero Boetti (1940-1994)

I mille fiumi più lunghi del mondo (The Thousand Longest Rivers in the World)

Alighiero Boetti (1940-1994)

Dodici forme dal 10 giugno 1967

Alighiero Boetti (1940-1994)

Il progressivo svanire della consuetudine (The progressive disappearance of habit)

ALIGHIERO BOETTI (1940-1994)

Cinque x cinque venticinque (Five times five twenty-five)

Alighiero Boetti (1940-1994)

Ammazzare il tempo

Alighiero Boetti (1940-1994)

Piccolo medio grande

ALIGHIERO BOETTI (1940-1994)

Il progressivo svanire della consuetudine (The progressive disappearance of habit)

Alighiero Boetti (1940-1994)

Tutto (Everything)

ALIGHIERO BOETTI (1940-1994)

Tutto (Everything)