In the forthcoming monograph Alighiero e Boetti (Yale University Press), Tate Modern curator Mark Godfrey argues for the importance of the Italian polymath, who died in 1994 at the age of 53. Boetti's widely varied production and arcane processes has been a challenge to understand, and subsequently marginalized his output, although his colorful embroidered maps are well known. The book precedes, but is unrelated to, the July 1 opening of MoMA's, "Alighiero Boetti: Game Plan."
As a young man, Boetti was associated with the Arte Povera group based in Turin, in Italy's industrial north. Among his best-known works of that time are Colonne (Columns), 1968, five stacks of cut-paper doilies, each six or seven feet high and reinforced by a concealed iron pole, and Io che prendo il sole a Torino il 19 gennaio 1969 (Me sunbathing in Turin on 19 January 1969), 1969, made of 111 handmade lumps of cement and a preserved butterfly, arranged on the floor in a roughly humanoid form. Godfrey argues that the romantically inclined conceptualist was often at odds with the materialism of colleagues such as Giovanni Anselmo and Gilberto Zorio. He also differentiates Boetti from the "aura of labor and industry" presented in the contemporaneous work of American artists such as Richard Serra and Robert Morris (p. 37).
Godfrey expands on the ideas that in 1973 compelled Alighiero Boetti to add "e" ("and") between his first and last names, a move that foregrounded a bifurcation of identity between the private, familiar self and the public, official self. Gemelli (Twins), a 1968 photomontage depicting a relaxed, smiling Boetti walking hand-in-hand through a park with his introverted-looking double, illustrates the concept.
Extrapolating from the theme of twinning or splitting, Godfrey accounts for the series of ruptures in this artist's production by arguing that discontinuities and disjunctions resulted from his suspicion of integration and consistency as the enemy of creativity. The title of a 1969 series of 25 grid-based drawings, "Cimento dell'armonia e dell'invenzione" ("Contest of harmony and invention"), implies that an artist enjoys one at the expense of the other.
According to Godfrey, Boetti "instituted a structure of production which could lead to a schizophrenic work-a work which was a site of different ideas, a work on which different authors left their marks, a work where difference was maintained and not turned into dialogue." Thus did Boetti reject a singularity of vision in favor of a multiplicity of creative selves, many of which were not even his. He enlisted the efforts of other artists for the labor-intensive, space-filling markings in his biro drawings, offering little supervision; he remotely contracted artisans in Pakistan and Afghanistan to weave and embroider the Mappe and other works, delegating to them decisions such as color selection.
Godfrey forgoes strict chronology, organizing his analysis into thematic chapters dealing with the identity of the artist and the nature of his art-making; global geo-politics; and Boetti's work on paper, his primary medium during his last 15 years. In a chapter titled "The Four Fundamental Concepts of Boetti's 1970s Works," Godfrey offers his take on order vs. disorder in the artist's projects during this key decade; his fascination with mathematics, intervals, and systems; dare tempo al tempo ("to give time to time," addressing the work's labor-intensiveness); and mettere al mondo il mondo ("putting the world into the world"). The title of a series of mid-1970s pen drawings, the last phrase resonates with Boetti's desire to find a place for everything he encountered outside his studio within the capacious world of his work. This desire takes a literal turn in the late series of embroideries titled Tutto (All), in which each work includes a staggering profusion of discrete shapes distributed evenly across the surface.
Boetti's studio activities, and the practices we might call "post-studio," established recognizable precedents for artists such as Gerhard Richter, who simultaneously creates dissimilar bodies of work; Damien Hirst, whose teams of assistants are creative, decision-making collaborators; and Rudolf Stingel, whose collaborators are often unknown to him. Godfrey finds endless continuities, as well, in the diverse works of Maurizio Cattelan, Fischli and Weiss, Pierre Huygue, and Frances Stark.