Senza titolo (Extra-Strong), 1991
b. 1940, Turin, Italy
d. 1994, Rome, Italy
Alighiero Boetti was born in Italy on December 16, 1940. Working in his hometown of Turin in the early 1960s among a close community of artists that included Luciano Fabro, Mario Merz, Giulio Paolini, and Michelangelo Pistoletto, among others, Boetti established himself as one of the leading artists of the Arte Povera movement. Boetti used a wide variety of materials for his work—including ball point pens and postal stamps—to make a series of maps and graphic charts of the world. “I went to a supplier of building materials. It was thrilling to see the wonderful things that were there!” the artist observed. “Some of the best moments in Arte Povera were hardware shop moments.”
In 1967, following the Israeli Six-Day War, he created Twelve Shapes Starting from 10 June 1967, which depicts through maps the various political crises in the conflict. Traveling to Afghanistan at the beginning of the 1970s, he was introduced to the traditional craft of embroidery, which marked a turning point in the artist's career. His fundamental concern with the relationship between "order" and "disorder" is manifest in his grid structures, derived from the "magical squares," that feature sayings and aphorisms that stem from cultural, philosophical, mathematical and linguistic contexts. After this frequently designed and commissioned textiles to be embroidered in artisan workshops, and from 1987 until his death, Boetti was completely absorbed in the creation of his largest and most complex tapestry, Tutto, which was created to represent the cultural diversity of the world.
Divorcing himself from Arte Povera in 1972, Boetti moved to Rome and became a master of Conceptual art. Dossier Postale (1969-70) demonstrated his preoccupation with improbability and chance. Consisting of 26 letters sent to famous recipients at imaginary addresses — including Marcel Duchamp, who’d recently died —the work charted their random progress. It was also around this time that the artist changed his name to Alighiero e Boetti (‘Alighiero and Boetti’) and started signing his work this way — as though he were two artists in one.
Having shown in Milan and Turin, Boetti had his first US solo exhibition in New York at John Weber Gallery in 1973. He continued to show throughout Italy and the United States until his premature death in 1994. He has been honored posthumously with several large-scale exhibitions, most notably at the Museum für Moderne Kunst in Vienna in 1997, Museum für Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt am Main in 1998, Gagosian Gallery in conjunction with Archivo Boetti in Rome in 2001, and The Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2012. His large Map of the World (1989) is on permanent display as an important feature of MoMA’s permanent collection.