Alighiero Boetti, Italian (1940 - 1994)

Italian conceptual artist and writer. According to his own mythologized account, his fascination with the qualities of ordinary materials began during childhood. Although the extent of any orthodox artistic training remains unrecorded, by 1964 he was making objects and silhouette paintings of familiar items, influenced by such Turinese contemporaries as Michelangelo Pistoletto and Mario Merz. His first one-man show (1967; Turin, Gal. Stein) included large objects made from materials such as corrugated cardboard, whose very ordinariness undermined orthodox notions of art. From the outset he participated in Arte Povera exhibitions and Happenings, in which a generation of Italian conceptual artists reinvented a world then in political turmoil. Boetti’s self-reflexive brand of Arte Povera was typified by his notional ‘twinning’: by cutting a second image of himself into a photographic self-portrait (Twins, 1968; see 1986–7 exh. cat., p. 19) and by inserting ‘e’ (‘and’) between his names, stimulating a dialectic exchange between these two selves. Boetti’s major project of the 1970s was The 1000 Longest Rivers of the World. He published the randomly poetic results in a catalogue and inscribed them on a related canvas (1970–77; see Boetti, 1978, p. 41).

Several other alphabetical or sequential pieces explored esoteric signs and language as classifier. International travels broadened his vision, reflected in Map (1971; see Boetti, 1978, p. 37), with countries filled with their flags, and in the group of brightly coloured tapestry squares, each containing a letter, made by traditional means in Afghanistan. The random massing of the 100 versions of ORDINE DISORDINE (each 175×175 mm, 1973; artist’s col.) was most effective in summarizing a world vision of polarities. During the 1980s the chaos of mass culture was suggested in larger tapestries crammed with heterogeneous details.


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