Flanking the entrance to MoMA’s retrospective exhibit
Alighiero Boetti: Game Plan is a floor-to-ceiling double self-portrait of two Alighiero Boettis, holding hands. The image is an enlarged print of his 1968 photograph Gemelli (Twins), and while both Boettis are dressed alike, their differing hairstyles and expressions prevent them from being identical. It’s a not-so-subtle nod to what lies ahead: minimalist sculptures, drawings and tapestries that reflect Boetti’s interest in both the double and the dichotomous. The galleries are organized thematically, with philosophical musings from Boetti decorating empty pockets of wall space, examining the junctions of order and disorder, art and object, artistic ownership and collaboration, global and local. Though steeped in the complexity of Boetti’s conceptualism, his work is playful and lively, at times surprisingly child-like in its simple, colorful symbolism.
An early member of the Italian anti-establishment art movement Arte Povera, Boetti used preexisting objects and systemic symbols to create art, a process he called “bringing the world into the world.” An entire gallery wall is dedicated to his 1973 Ordine e Disordine (Order and Disorder), a series of one hundred panels in which each of the sixteen letters of the title is stitched into its own geometric, brightly colored square. The panels, and the letters within them, are displayed haphazardly; the letters are rearranged, ordered in the same nonsensical way in each panel, with varying color patterns. The series looks more or less like what might decorate the wall of a preschooler’s bedroom – until you read a statement by Boetti, printed high on an adjacent wall, which connects visual disorder to the lucidity of mental order. The panels are both formulaic and jumbled, ordered and disordered, visually and abstractly rich.
In other pieces less conducive to visual display, his systemic tinkering is the whole of the artwork. In 1969, Boetti began hoodwinking the postal service into facilitating his work. Nineteen stamped envelopes make up Viaggi postali (Postal Voyages), a project in which Boetti mailed letters to friends at imaginary addresses. When a letter was returned to him, he would place it into a larger envelope, also addressed to nowhere, and start over, the envelopes growing thicker and larger each time. In the same room are archival photographs of One Hotel, his fully operational hotel in Afghanistan, open from 1971 until the Soviet invasion in 1979. The hotel had eleven rooms – an intentionally doubled number one – stamping the project with Boetti-esque conceptualism in spite of its functionality.
Boetti is best known for his map tapestries, most of which hang in the second floor atrium separate from the main exhibit. In his maps, embroidered by Afghani craftswomen to whom Boetti gave free creative rein, each country is colored according to its flag. He is quoted beside them: “I myself did nothing, in the sense that the world is as it is (I didn’t draw it) and the national flags are as they are (I didn’t design them). In short, I did absolutely nothing.” The quote, a curious rebuff of artistic ownership, recalls his 1973 name change to Alighiero e Boetti – literally, Alighiero and Boetti. By dichotomizing himself, separating the man from the artist, Boetti – or maybe Alighiero – becomes one of his own art projects. If only there was a way to display it.
Alighiero Boetti: Game Plan will be on view from July 1 to October 1, 2012 at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.