Alighiero Boetti

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Alighiero Boetti

Post  eddie on Sun Mar 04, 2012 7:13 am

Alighiero Boetti: Signor Lazybones

He embroidered maps, made self-portraits in rubble, and set up a hotel in Afghanistan … Adrian Searle revels in the weird world of Alighiero Boetti

Adrian Searle

guardian.co.uk, Monday 27 February 2012 21.45 GMT


Winter activities … Boetti’s Me Sunbathing in Turin, 19 January 1969. Photograph: Alighiero Boetti Estate by DACS SIAE, 2012, courtesy Fondazione Alighiero e Boetti

In the middle of the Alighiero Boetti retrospective at Tate Modern, there's a box containing a large lightbulb. It only lights up for 11 seconds a year, at some random moment. Hanging about, squandering time, waiting for illumination – it might sum up the Italian's life. Luckily for us, though, there's much more to Boetti's art than this gesture, which now seems as passe as it was once provocative. The artist, who died in 1994, was a mysterious, fascinating figure.

I take the lightbulb as a kind of self-portrait. Boetti was, he said, "giving time to time". Further self-images are scattered through the show. The first, produced when he was a member of the arte povera movement, is an approximation of a body, composed of more than 100 little lumps of whitish concrete. Its title is Me Sunbathing in Turin, 19 January 1969. You'd have to be made of concrete to sunbathe in Turin in January. A yellow butterfly decorates the rubble, a badge of the artist as dandy – aloof and indifferent to the season. Except, of course, he's flat on the ground, anonymous as a crime-scene outline.

Born in 1940, Boetti renounced arte povera almost as soon as the movement gained traction, even though he had produced some of its most startling works. He stretched printed, commercially produced camouflage fabric on canvases, anticipating Warhol's later paintings, and leaned window frames against the walls, affording views on to nothing. He worked with rolls of cardboard and stacks of building materials, and tried to write on fast-drying cement panels, the words congealing as they set. He played with numbers and words, chequerboards and embroideries (his mother had been an embroiderer), and devoted himself to calculations, games with letters, stamps, postcards and cumbersome numerological systems, whose results are more visually intriguing than the laborious mental machinery that produced them. Inordinately superstitious, Boetti consulted psychics and the I Ching, and dabbled with zen and Sufi poetry. I cannot bring myself to care about these mind games, though.

Yet, against the odds, and a self-professed idleness, Boetti produced an enormous quantity of work, even though he delegated much of its production to schoolchildren, students and Afghan weavers. He had students produce huge scroll-like drawings, their fields of blue built up with nothing more than ballpoint ink, interrupted only by groups of white commas, like stars in the inky firmament. His effortless ideas became the repetitive strain injuries of his helpers.

Boetti travelled widely, most of all to Kabul, where he first went in 1971. He was more than just another tourist on the hippy trail: he set up the One Hotel there, and kept going back until the Soviet invasion in 1979. It has been suggested that Boetti's hotel was an early example of relational aesthetics, a work in its own right, even if it was a matter of being rather than doing, and hanging out in one of the hotel's 11 rooms. Drugs undoubtedly played an increasing part in Boetti's life at the time.

At one point in the show, called Game Plan, a painted portrait of Boetti by Pietro Gallina has been twinned with a 1769 portrait of one of Boetti's ancesters, Giovan Battista Boetti. This earlier Boetti – a Dominican monk and possibly an Italian spy, who converted to Islam while on a mission to Constantinople (or perhaps Mosul) – eventually changed his name to Sheikh Mansur and, in the 18th century, led the Chechen people against Catherine the Great. Whether or not this is true – and the evidence is conflicting – the letters supposedly proving that Battista Boetti became Mansur only turned up in the mid-19th century. They might well be fake, though the film-maker Adam Curtis tells an interesting story about Boetti, his ancestor, Jihad and the drug trade in his BBC blog.

Truth or fable, the story of Sheikh Mansur was one of the reasons why Boetti first travelled to Afghanistan, and where he made the works he became most famous for. The best things Boetti ever did were the huge embroideries he commissioned from Afghan craftswomen. Their sources were the geopolitical world maps he ordered from a cartographer in London. He designed nothing, changed nothing, but allowed the embroiderers leeway to complete the maps as they chose, and allowed them to write in Persian script whatever they fancied around the maps' borders. "The Afghan women with patience are creating the world's picture," says one.

Each map charted changes in the world, as revolutions in Africa, collapse in the Soviet Union and fragmentation in the former Yugoslavia came and went. At first, these maps were made in Afghanistan. Later, after the Soviet invasion, some were completed in Iran and many more in Pakistan by exiled Afghans. They are exquisite, gorgeous, sorrowful things, and the room that contains them is worth the trip alone. Translations and commentaries accompany the maps.

Boetti went on to fill embroideries with clustering, jostling images – everything from pairs of spectacles and dancing gibbons to embroidered lists of the 1,000 longest rivers in the world. This doomed attempt to measure and quantify the changing courses of waterways is more than an exercise in futility. It is more, perhaps, about persistence – the hard work that Boetti's idleness entailed.

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Re: Alighiero Boetti

Post  eddie on Sun Mar 04, 2012 7:16 am

Alighiero Boetti: games, twins and maps – in pictures

Alighiero Boetti was a mysterious figure and one of Italy's most important contemporary artists, who abandoned the arte povera movement with which he first found fame. Ahead of Tate Modern's retrospective exhibition, which runs until 27 May 2012, we look at some of Boetti's most playful and powerful works

Chris Michael

guardian.co.uk, Monday 27 February 2012 21.45 GMT

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Re: Alighiero Boetti

Post  eddie on Sun Mar 04, 2012 7:17 am


Born in 1940, Boetti was hailed by Germano Celant, the Genoese art critic who identified and organised the movement, as one of arte povera's quintessential artists. Boetti's earlier works, such as Ping Pong (1966, pictured) often used materials he found in hardware stores around industrial TurinPhotograph: Alighiero Boetti Estate by DACS; SIAE, 2012, courtesy Fondazione Alighiero e Boetti

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Re: Alighiero Boetti

Post  eddie on Sun Mar 04, 2012 7:20 am


Ping Pong consists of two large wall-mounted cases in which the words 'ping' and 'pong' emerge as electric current alternates between the two. Part of his 1967 debut, they show a preoccupation with time, games and mystery, as well as duality and opposition, which would remain central to all his subsequent workPhotograph: Alighiero Boetti Estate by DACS; SIAE, 2012, courtesy Fondazione Alighiero e Boetti

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Re: Alighiero Boetti

Post  eddie on Sun Mar 04, 2012 7:23 am


Following Duchamp's example, Boetti created a deliberate public persona – in his case, twins. In the early 70s, he changed his name to Alighiero e Boetti (Alighiero and Boetti). And Twins (1968, pictured) was a set of postcards he mailed to friends, showing him rather surreally holding hands with himselfPhotograph: Alighiero Boetti Estate by DACS; SIAE, 2012, courtesy Fondazione Alighiero e Boetti

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Re: Alighiero Boetti

Post  eddie on Sun Mar 04, 2012 7:26 am


Column, 1968. Boetti worked with rolls of cardboard and stacks of building supplies, and tried to write on fast-drying cement panels before the cement set. And yet he would go on to renounce arte povera almost as soon as the movement gained tractionPhotograph: Alighiero Boetti Estate by DACS; SIAE, 2012, courtesy Fondazione Alighiero e Boetti

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Re: Alighiero Boetti

Post  eddie on Sun Mar 04, 2012 7:29 am


Io che Prendo il Sole a Toriino, il 19 Gennaio 1969 (Me Sunbathing in Turin, 19 January 1969). This self-image is made of more than a hundred lumps of concrete, with a yellow butterfly in its midst, showing the creator as a Duchamp-inspired dandy despite the inert deadness of the figurePhotograph: Alighiero Boetti Estate by DACS; SIAE, 2012, courtesy Fondazione Alighiero e Boetti

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Re: Alighiero Boetti

Post  eddie on Sun Mar 04, 2012 7:32 am


La Mole Antonelliana, 1970-1975. Boetti used the postal system as a means of creative expression. He sent images of this Turin landmark to friends from his travels in the US, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Morocco and more, refusing to objectify other countries while showing how Italy marketed itselfPhotograph: Alighiero Boetti Estate by DACS; SIAE, 2012, courtesy Fondazione Alighiero e Boetti

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Re: Alighiero Boetti

Post  eddie on Sun Mar 04, 2012 7:37 am


Boetti visited Kabul in 1971, and later that year opened a hotel there. Some of his best-loved works are the maps he commissioned from Afghan embroiderers, based on world maps created by a London cartographer. Boetti let the women complete the maps however they liked, and many wrote personal messages in Persian around the borders. One reads: 'The Afghan women with patience are creating the world's picture'Photograph: Alighiero Boetti Estate by DACS; SIAE, 2012, courtesy Fondazione Alighiero e Boetti

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Re: Alighiero Boetti

Post  eddie on Sun Mar 04, 2012 7:41 am


For Guatemala (1974), Boetti posed with local Guatemalans against painted screens of various exotic locales, challenging the viewer's assumptions about who is local and who a visitorPhotograph: Alighiero Boetti Estate by DACS; SIAE, 2012, courtesy Fondazione Alighiero e Boetti

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Re: Alighiero Boetti

Post  eddie on Sun Mar 04, 2012 7:50 am


Austrian Airlines made a series of jigsaw puzzles based on Boetti's Aeroplanes series (Aerei, 1989, pictured) to divert travellers on long tripsPhotograph: Courtesy of Carmignac Gestion Foundation/Aligherio Boetti, DACS 2011

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Re: Alighiero Boetti

Post  eddie on Sun Mar 04, 2012 7:53 am


Alternando da uno a Cento e Viceversa (Alternating from One to a Hundred and Vice Versa), 1993. Boetti was obsessed by calculations, alphabet games and numerology. He was also superstitious, consulting psychics and the I-Ching, and dabbled with zen and Sufi poetryPhotograph: Alighiero Boetti Estate by DACS; SIAE, 2012, courtesy Fondazione Alighiero e Boetti

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Re: Alighiero Boetti

Post  eddie on Sun Mar 04, 2012 7:56 am


Each of Boetti's successive Mappa (Maps), such as this one from 1994, reflected geopolitical change, most notably in Africa and the former countries of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan some of the maps were made by exiled Afghans living in Iran or Peshawar, PakistanPhotograph: Alighiero Boetti Estate by DACS; SIAE, 2012, courtesy Fondazione Alighiero e Boetti

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