We are not talking about a medieval religious artist. Boetti was a modern artist, whose works we likely know, although perhaps we were unaware of it
A man outside the box, he carried within the lacerations of contemporary mankind. The artist was a two-faced Janus, suspended between Western rationality and Sufi mysticism, between private and public, Alighiero and Boetti, pure art and entrepreneurship, isolation and social experiments such as the textile factory in Afghanistan, or the one-room hotel, the One Hotel of Kabul. He was the dedicated worker and, at the same time, the man capable of leaving for Istanbul on Christmas day because he wanted “a decent coffee”. This duplicity would never come together, and from the 70s onwards, it would come to present itself as Alighiero & Boetti.
He was a man on a real and metaphorical journey, around the world and looking for new expressive forms, experimenting with various techniques. On the other hand, he had turned his back on painting since joining the Arte Povera movement. At the end of the 1960s, he fell in love with the tapestry technique. However, in Afghanistan in 1971 he would finally understand its potential and expressive power “using embroidery threads like colors or pastels”. Boetti was taken in by Afghanistan and when the Russians invaded it in 1979, the production of his tapestries continued in Pakistan. He would never abandon this technique that accompanied him throughout his career, in parallel with other experiments with wood, Eternit, rice paper and so on.
Senza titolo, 1988
Niente da vedere, niente da nascondere, undated
Mettere al mondo il mondo, 1972-1973
Tapestries are among his best-known works and, like him, impossible to define – sometimes geographic maps are rational, sometimes with symbols and letters, so complex to decipher them would seem trivial. The use of the tapestry does not arise from the desire to recover craft techniques, but rather from the need to place oneself beyond “style and individual manner”, to make the “artist” disappear in his work. Setting aside Western individualism, Boetti became a director-entrepreneur who catalysed and amplified the energy of weaving hands. His work becomes a shared memory.
Senza titolo – Animali misti, Collage and mixed media, 1988
Svelare e Rivelare, 1992
There is an interesting series of Maps where he represents the terrestrial planisphere decorated with the flags of the various states. In his words: “I didn’t do anything … the world is made as it is, the flags are what they are and I didn’t draw them …”. In reality, he “weaves” the geography of the world, highlighting cultural differences and variations in borders. This is a tapestry with a grey background instead of the sea is part of the same series. It seems that the colour was chosen by the embroiderers, who had no knowledge of the ocean and seas.
Senza titolo, 1969
La stanza dei giochi, 1975
The most enigmatic tapestries are those with grids that contain numbers or letters, which sometimes become names or sentences. The signs, three-dimensional and with bright colours, have no real order, and are not always arranged from right to left, but indifferently according to orthogonal and diagonal lines. The artist refers to the Kabbalah and the Mystic. Letters and numbers are the arcane language that creates the world and keeps it in balance. He also touches on the magic square of Dürer, a grid of 16 boxes, whose numbers in any case always add up do 34. He also makes use of versus intexi, sentences inserted within a text and visible only if we read the letters as in a puzzling acrostic – a text in the text. The sentences seem random, but they are not.
Legnetti colorati, 1968
Alternando da uno a cento, 1993
They push us to get out of our comfort zone, where we take refuge when we look at the world on the surface. Sometimes they are explicit, and they are often secret messages. He once said, “if things are not secret, they are watered down”. His work was penalized by collectors due to the craftsmanship of the technique, the overabundance that lowered the market value and the apparent simplicity of the message. Graphic designers and designers have plundered it by trivializing its innovative scope and depth. Furthermore, a complete catalogue of his works is still lacking. However, his market quotations have recently risen, and in 2018 “Imagining everything”, a 22 cm square tapestry, was auctioned off at Christie’s for 33,904 Euro.
Boetti takes us away from the materialism of modern society. His tapestries in their apparent rationality are like a precious casket of Wisdom that opens up to new students, while also offering others with a colourful vision of “drawings, words and numbers” of which only the surface is understood.
Anna Maria Calabretta