Alighiero Boetti

Villa Arson

In the mid ’60s, Alighiero Boetti began an outstanding artistic career, one that would enhance most of the determining aspects of contemporary art. A most peculiar figure, Boetti doesn’t belong to any of the art mainstreams of the last twenty years, even if, in a certain manner, his work is a necessary part of each. To start with, Boetti’s role in the adventure of arte povera was organic; his work also relates directly to post-Minimalism, process art, performance, and mail art. Predominantly, it is a series of mental elaborations specifying possible issues for a most imaginative reconceptualization of art.

Boetti is a man of ideas who doesn’t have to think. He is also the originator of a significant number of objects that do not belong to him. Somewhere in between ideas and objects, his artworks succeed one another in an idiosyncratically logical way, like steps in a very personal itinerary. The Lampada annuale (Annual lamp, 1966) does indeed work once each year, but nobody knows when. The Colonne (Columns, 1968), are elemental non sequiturs, concrete accumulations of fragments of reality. Niente da vedere, niente da nascondere (Nothing to show, nothing to hide, 1969), a metal grid containing squares of glass, is nothing more than what it is: a perfect formal and ideological statement of any formal and ideological nonsense. It divides pure space and one’s experience of it into a graspable reality.

The entire series of “Gemelli” (Twins, 1968– ), covering an extensive part of Boetti’s work to date, is an imaginative use of cliched effects atop one essential structure. In order to deny the one-dimensional man, the artist does not employ a discourse but has established a dual persona, Alighiero e Boetti. He writes with both hands, he reads from left to right as well as from right to left, and so on. Boetti affirms that the human mind is open to itself, beyond cultural and historical limitations. He experiences the world as an opening, and through his observation of it, this opening becomes a proper design. Just as a river travels through all kinds of landscapes, any one of Boetti’s series becomes a corrosive line that, in adapting itself to physical conditions, alters their nature at its point of passage. I mille fiumi più lunghi del mondo (The thousand longest rivers of the world, 1970–77) is an accumulation of abstract ideas realized as a series of physical lines, which converge to empty into a world as fluid as a sea, a sea that bears no resemblance to the threatening Romantic images of it.

For Boetti, the world is a map. This map, outlined by him, has been woven by Afghani women into a series of large tapestries. Traces, gestures, images, signs, clichés, stamps, maps, telegrams, drawings, things, ideas, words, and copies form an extraordinary universe that belongs to no one but in which everybody can take part. After Boetti, the story of the creation of the world and all that has followed could be reduced to this: God neither attained the church, nor stayed at home, but lost himself in an asylum. Here he encountered a long series of funny lonely hearts beating in the most inimitable rhythms, inventing their own communicative processes that nevertheless canceled any possible means for communication. Then, God understood that what he had done was nearly the same: the invention of myriad uncommunicable languages as evidence that no spoken language can communicate fully the depth of the human soul. On that day God became the artist’s equal, and the artist was as lost to humanity as God. But they do differ in one way: an artist can provide a retrospective view of his work, whereas God does not.

Denys Zacharopoulos