Alighiero Boetti was a conceptual pioneer and one of the most important and influential artists of the 20th century. A prominent member of the Arte Povera movement, by the 1970s Boetti diverged from the collective movements of the time and forged his own unique explorations of time, space, language, mathematics, wordplay, classification and collaboration, producing one of the most fascinating and radically conceptual bodies of work of the 20th century.
Boetti’s first works created in the 1960s were object-based and fitted within the realms of Arte Povera. However, his work became progressively more aligned with that of conceptual artists such as On Kawara (time) and Lawrence Wiener (language) and he Boetti was one of the earliest revolutionary practitioners to use language as a formal device. Boetti used simple and often industrial materials, concentrating more on the creative conception of the work and leaving its execution to others – such as the embroideries produced by Afghani women in the 1970s. This also enabled Boetti to integrate Eastern culture and its tradition in his works (often represented by Farsi writing) given his interest in the principle of polar forces and harmonies, bridging West and East.
Boetti’s arazzi are some of his most widely known works and highlight his love of games and wordplay; consisting of coloured letters embroidered in grids on canvases of varying sizes, the letters can be read in a sequence of arrangements to reveal short phrases in Italian, such as Si Dice chi Finge di Ignorare una Situazione che Invece Dovrebbe Affrontare (1988), La Forza del Centro (1990) and Fortuna e Sfortuna (1994). Boetti’s approach to language was both playful and cerebral; with a desire to expose dualities, oppositional forces and hidden meaning in every aspect of his work.
Boetti’s biro series, begun in 1972 and continued through the 1980s, encompassed many of the ideas that were most important to the artist: collaboration, order and disorder, coded language, wordplay, double meanings and cerebral engagement. The biro works were executed with standard, inexpensive ballpoint pens (perhaps a nod to Boetti’s roots in the Arte Povera movement) by assistants instructed to take turns making rows of meticulous hatch marks, filling large sheets of paper, with the exclusion of letters and symbols that were left as exposed white ground.
Senza Titolo (il si è Meglio del no?) / Untitled (is a ‘yes’ better than a ‘no’?) (1981) highlights the duality and polarity that fascinated Boetti, incorporating collage, scrawled texts, stencils and word play – some of the myriad practices Boetti employed with his highly experimental works on paper. The two panels of the diptych elucidate Boetti’s fascination with dualities, twinning, and the left and right brain relationship. Boetti’s body of work is at once highly conceptual and strikingly visual, his radical ideas and elaborate endeavours making him one of the most influential and fascinating artists of the 20th century – a pioneer and major influence on many contemporary artists today.