Alighiero Boetti

Criticism

Alighiero e Boetti
Sperone Westwater

Forty-three giant frames filled with 5,040 envelopes, which were first franked with 35,280 stamps, then mailed by the artist from various Italian cities to his home in Turin – a classic work by one of the great names in Italian art and in international conceptualism, who died before his time in 1994.
Made in 1972, the work is typical of how Boetti could take a simple premise and run with it: Given the 200 lire needed to send a letter, Boetti asked himself, how many different ways could you organize a row of seven different colored stamps to make up the total postage? A modest conceit, like many in good art – the Mona Lisa, after all, starts out with a banal decision to paint a dame with folded arms – but with enchantingly complex results: an overwhelming sense of useless plenty; whimsy galore; meditative labor become a central principle; rainbow beauty sourced in the everyday. Boetti brings the rigorous grid of minimal abstraction, the dominant movement when he made this work, into rich contact with the world outside. The gracious marriage that results supercharges both the form and its content.

Blake Gopnik

[The Washington Post, 13 May, 2001, p. G6]

Whitechapel Art Gallery, London

I imagine Boetti as one of those people (they are perhaps less rare in Rome, where he emigrated from his native Turin in 1972, than anywhere else) who spends his time mostly sitting around, quite volubly doing apparently nothing—but doing that with such concentrated nervous energy that he also seems to be entirely engaged in profound activity. Pleased to portray himself as an exponent of quasi-Buddhist inaction, he explained his world maps, executed by Afghan embroiderers, in which the shape of each country is filled by the design of its flag: "I did nothing for this work, chose nothing myself, in the sense that: the world is shaped as it is, I did not draw it; the flags are what they are, I did not design them. In short, I created absolutely nothing." He merely set a process in motion in order to become the spectator of its result.
Of course, a tremendous amount of labor was invested in each of Boetti's large maps, or in the drawings composed of fields of tiny ballpoint-pen markings (like the stitching in the embroideries), such as I sei sensi (The six senses), 1973, on eleven enormous sheets. Only the labor was contributed by others. But to emphasize that would be to paint Boetti as a sort of cross between Duchamp and Tom Sawyer, which maybe, after all, he was. Still, he was always the maker as well as the witness. In the catalogue, Diletta Borromeo identifies twenty-three distinct types of work produced by Boetti from 1965 until his death. The exhibition itself includes just fifty-one items, communicating his range but not representing any single genre in depth. And although nearly a third of them date from 1966-68, that is, the arte povera years, it does not misrepresent Boetti's career. In this context, arte povera appears as just one of the ideas with which he played, though one that happened to yield many objects.

Barry Schwabsky

[Artforum, XXXVII, No. 0, p. 115]

In 1968 the Italian artist Alighiero Boetti changed his name to Alighiero e [meaning "and"] Boetti, underscoring the importance to Boetti of the dual nature of personality as well as undermining the notion of the artist as a unique individual. These two fascinating exhibitions, shown concurrently, explored the alternate sides of Boetti's work and his often collaborative process.
"Worlds Envisioned" at the Dia Center for the Arts paired Boetti's work with that of Frédéric Bouabré, an artist from Abidjan who had never before shown in North America. The pairing was an interesting one, not just for the formal similarities highlighted, including the repeated squares and rectangles, but more importantly for the artists' common interest in symbolic—specifically linguistic—structures.
The title of one of Boetti's works in this show, Mettere il mondo al mondo—literally, "to put the world into the world"—is also translatable as "to give birth to the world" and seems to refer to the symbolic creation of the human world through language. While Boetti's works are highly conceptual, they are often visually elegant, as in Intervallo, in which Boetti turns a set of iron squares into a chessboard by interweaving them with a sheet of white tissue paper.
Dia's Boetti, characterized by linguistic structures and lyrical forms, alternated with P.S. 1's Boetti, interested in collaborations and grid systems. The 25 black-and-white kilims in "Alternating 1 to 100 and vice versa" are the result of a large-scale collaborative effort in which Boetti enlisted the help of friends, students, and a group of Afghan weavers. The kilims are each composed of 100 equal squares that that themselves are made up of another grid of 100 equal squares. Boetti's collaborators created their own designs by filling in these grids (i.e., 99 black squares and 1 white, 98 white squares and 2 black, etc.). The designs, on view in a smaller room, can be handled and examined in an intimate and casual way, quite differently from the way one experiences the kilims in the hushed, meditative expanse of the auditorium gallery. These different experiences of his work once again reflect the duality of the artist himself.

Lisa Panzera

[Artnews, January 1995, p. 163]