LondonAlighiero Boetti: Decoding His Universe: Works on Paper (1968-91)
“There is always a secret heart to Boetti’s work”. Norman O. Brown
Alighiero Boetti’s works on paper provide illuminating glimpses into the secret world of the artist. From the playful to the provocative, doodle to drawing, Boetti’s graphic work takes the viewer to the heart of the artist’s obsession with creating codes, games and rules. For him, art was a game for everyone to play and the role of the artist was to set the rules. The first Post-War Italian artist to be given a solo show at Tate Modern, London (‘Game Plan’ in 2012, which travelled to MoMA New York), Boetti’s playful conceptualism, humour and wordplay resonate with London audiences.
Paper is the constant thread that ties much of Boetti’s work together, from his personal sketches to his museum-quality pieces. ‘Alighiero Boetti: Decoding his Universe’, at Tornabuoni Art London, presents over 30 works on paper by the artist that span his entire career and range in scale from origami airplanes to monumental murals. These works are rarely seen in such quantity and depth, so this show provides a unique opportunity to delve into the mind of an artist whose work is so intensely cerebral.
The show includes some of his first conceptual works, such as the Bollini (Stickers) series from the late 1960s. After his daughter was born in 1972, Boetti began inventing numerical and word-based games to play with her, that were eventually developed into fully-fledged series of now iconic works. These include the Ricami works: the letter-embroideries which, when read from top to bottom and left to right, reveal poetic and sometimes playful phrases. Equally if not more renowned are Boetti’s Biro works, which invite the reader to match commas with letters to decipher hidden messages in a vast sea of ink drawn from ball point pens. The monumental Biro piece Mettere al mondo il mondo (Bringing the World to the the World) from 1975 is be on view as a prime example of this practice.
Just as his work ranges from the massive to the minute, the cyphers with which we can decode his art vary from the complex algebraic equation behind his Storia Naturale della Moltiplicazione (Natural History of Multiplication), 1974-75, to the fact that Boetti used to take polaroids and organise his infant daughter’s animal stencils by species before using them to create the frieze-like works (Fregio) that were shown at the Venice Biennale of 1990. For his Copertine (Magazine Covers) works on paper, which were mounted onto canvas, the rule was simple: to visually summarise the passing of an entire year by selecting and then tracing over 12 magazine covers of the time, one for each month. His Lavori Postali (Postal Works), consisted of empty envelopes, stamped using a finite and predetermined combination of colourful postage stamps, sent across the world to made-up addresses, or to long-dead recipients. Only if all the envelopes were successfully returned to the sender could Boetti complete the game, and therefore the work.
This intimate show provides a counterpoint to the gallery’s recent Art Basel stand devoted to Boetti’s iconic Maps in June 2019, as well as its presentation of a celebrated Map at Frieze Masters in London this October. It also follows recent gallery surveys of Boetti at Tornabuoni Art Paris and London and the major exhibition ‘Alighiero Boetti: Minimum/ Maximum’ at the Fondazione Giorgio Cini in Venice in 2017. Such shows exemplify Tornabuoni Art’s tradition of exploring an artist’s entire creative universe in depth.Courtesy of Tornabuoni Art