the colorful world of Italian conceptual artist Alighiero Boetti

image credit: Alighiero Boetti, Divine Astrazioni, courtesy Sotheby’s Milan

Sotheby’s Milan is offering for sale on 22 May 2013, a number of works by a personal favorite  –  Alighiero Boetti (1940-1994)  –  one of the great Italian conceptual artists of the 20th Century and an early member of the Italian Arte Povera movement.  Literally meaning “poor art”-  this artistic movement characterized itself for using a variety of everyday objects to create their artwork.  Like all the works illustrated here today, Boetti refrains from using the tried and true oil on canvas, but instead has created his magnificent works in embroidery and pen on paper.  Each series of work, although inspired and imagined by Boetti, actually was realized by the hands of dozens of other people – not your average way to create great art!

image credit: Alighiero Boetti, Mappa, Photo Lucy Dawkins, Tate Photography

Best known to the general public for the series of embroidered maps he created using the flags of the nations to delineate their boundaries in the world, the “Mappa” series are held by major museums around the world and are an excellent introduction to Boetti’s works (above).  There are thought to be 150 of them, each done by different groups of Afghan and Pakistani women so that no two are exactly the same.  Done over the course of 20+ years (from 1971 until Boetti’s death in 1994), they provide a fascinating record of world history since the flags of nations change over time.
Another of Boetti’s embroidery series are block grids containing seemingly random letters that actually spell out short phrases in Italian (main image).  With vivid colors and in a variety of sizes, these are intimate pieces that I like to see hanging in a corner of a living room or library where they can be quietly admired and touched.  The specific work offered at Sotheby’s Milan is entitled “Divine Astrazioni” or “divine abstractions”.  Interestingly, where color selection is one of the most important parts of any work of art, Boetti allowed the local women to make the choices of color combinations themselves, thus engaging them further in the final outcome.

image credit: Alighiero Boetti, Tutto, courtesy Sotheby’s Milan

In a nod to abstraction, this work is from the Tutto series.  At a first glance, it looks like a mess of shapes and colors.  But on closer inspection, you see a series of objects like scissors, knives, tools, birds, and astrological signs that collide to create a riotous image.

image credit: Alighiero Boetti, Maledetti Privilegi, courtesy Sotheby’s Milan

The odd man out in this post is undoubtedly the pen on paper work called “Maledetti Privilegi”.  These pieces took days or even weeks to complete and Boetti would ask friends to come and add a line of crosshatching to the work.  There is a rhythm to the lines as they snake across the paper like watery waves.  The work is so calming.  Some of the works from this series contain words and puns, however this work really does let imagination flow by presenting only the alphabet down one side and random commas throughout the rest of the piece.
Sadly, Boetti died from a brain tumor at the young age of 53.  Another example of how great artists of all ages always seem to be taken in their prime.  His works today are found in many major museums and appear at auction with some regularity.

richard rabel
richard rabel: interiors + art
interior design and art advising
new york city

Sale information:

Arte Moderna e Contemporanea
22 May 2013
Lot 183 – Alighiero Boetti, Divine Astrazioni, embroidery, signed, estimate: €12.000-18.000
Lot 46 – Alighiero Boetti, Tutto, embroidered tapestry, inscribed, estimate: €350.000-450.000
Lot 50 – Alighiero Boetti, Maledetti Privilegi, pen on paper laid down on canvas, two elements,
estimate: €120.000-180.000