Alighiero Fabrizio Boetti known as Alighiero e Boetti (December 16, 1940 – February 24, 1994) was an Italian conceptual artist, considered to be a member of the art movement Arte Povera.
He is most famous for a series of embroidered maps of the world, Mappa, created between 1971 and his death in 1994. Boetti's work was typified by his notion of 'twinning', leading him to add 'e' (and) between his names, 'stimulating a dialectic exchange between these two selves.
From 1963 to 1965, Boetti began to create works out of then unusual materials such as plaster, masonite, plexiglass, light fixtures and other industrial materials. His first solo show was in 1967, at the Turin gallery of Christian Stein. Later that year participated in an exhibition at Galleria La Bertesca in the Italian city of Genoa, with a group of other Italian artists that referred to their works as Arte Povera, or poor art, a term subsequently widely propagated by Italian art critic Germano Celant.
Boetti continued to work with a wide array of materials, tools, and techniques, including ball pens (biro) and even the postal system. Some of Boetti's artistic strategies are considered typical for Arte Povera, namely the use the most modest of materials and techniques, to take art off its pedestal of attributed "dignity". Boetti also took a keen interest in the relationship between chance and order, in various systems of classification (grids, maps, etc.), and non-Western traditions and cultural practices, influenced by his Afghanistan and Pakistan travels.
An example of his Arte Povera work is Lampada annuale (Yearly Lamp) (1966), a single, outsized light bulb in a mirror-lined wooden box,which randomly switches itself on for eleven seconds each year. This work focuses both on the transformative powers of energy, and on the possibilities and limitations of chance - the likelihood of a viewer being present at the moment of illumination is remote. In 1967, Boetti produced the piece Manifesto, a poster listing the names of artists that make up Boetti’s creative background.
In 1967, for the i Colori series, Boetti made monochrome paintings in which he sprayed these paints on metal or masonite supports, recording the numbers and fanciful names of the colours in superimposed prefabricated cork letters. Different thematic groups emerged as Boetti combined their names with other names, race track names for instance (Oro Longchamp and Verde Ascot) or distant place names (Rosso Palermo and Beige Sahara). In 1971 Boetti made a diptych with two dates: the first, 16 December 2040, is the 100th anniversary of his birth; the second, 11 July 2023 the date of he predicted would be his own own death.
In January 1968, Boetti returned to the two-dimensionality of paper with publishing a poster in an edition of 800, containing a list of 16 Italian artists of his own generation. Next to each name were two, three, or four symbols out of a set of eight, signs whose meanings out of a set of eight, signs whose meanings were held secret but had been recorded in a letter deposited with a notary. Later that year Boetti produced an edition of 50 postcards bearing a reproduction of one of his recent works. In 1969, he created Cimento dell’armonia e dell’invenzione and with the Lavori postali series, based on the scanning of time and on the laws of mathematical permutation. By using an existing system (the post office), Boetti incorporated the element of chance in his work. Dossier Postale (1969–70) consists of a series of letters which were sent to 26 well-known recipients, primarily artists (Giulio Paolini, Bruce Nauman), art critics (Lucy Lippard, Arturo Schwarz), dealers (Konrad Fischer, Leo Castelli), and collectors (Giuseppe Panza, Corrado Levi) active at the time. Boetti sent the envelopes to imaginary addresses, thus each letter was returned to the artist undelivered, demonstrating Boetti’s preoccupation with improbability and chance. Untitled (Victoria Boogie Woogie), 1972, is made up of 42 framed postal collages, each containing 120 self-addressed, stamped envelopes of seven stamps per envelope. The letters were all mailed by the artist from different cities to himself in Turin. The number 5040, or (120 x 42 panels), or (7 x 6 x 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1), was the number of permutations that could be derived from a sequencing of the seven Italian stamps, totaling 200 lire of postage.
Boetti disassociated himself from the Arte Povera movement in 1972 and moved to Rome, without, however, completely abandoning some of its democratic, anti-elitist, strategies. In 1973, he renamed himself as a dual persona Alighiero e Boetti (“Alighiero and Boetti”) reflecting the opposing factors presented in his work: the individual and society, error and perfection, order and disorder. Already in his double-portrait I Gemelli begun in 1968 and published as a postcard, Boetti had altered photographs so that he appeared to be holding the hand of his identical twin. He trained himself to write and draw ambidextrously.
Perhaps best known is Boetti's series of large embroidered maps of the world, called simply Mappa. After the Six-Day War in June 1967 the artist began to collect newspaper covers featuring maps of war zones. Comprising twelve sheets of copper, each engraved only with the single outline of a map, Dodici forme dal 10 guigno 1967 (Twelve Shapes Starting from 10 June 1967) (1967-1971) graphically catalogues some of the world's most serious political crises between 1967 and 1971, beginning, as its title suggests, with the territories occupied by Israel at the time of the Six Day War on 10 June 1967. He then asked his wife to embroider the shapes from the June 1967 map. The embroidery, consisting of three patches of brown wool on an otherwise empty piece of cloth, looks like a "work in progress". Within a relatively short time he subsequently visited Africa, South America, the United States and East and Central Asia. He pondered the idea of the first large-scale Mappa during his second voyage to Afghanistan in 1971, resulting in a series of woven world maps entitled Territori Occupati. Between 1971 and 1979 he set up the One Hotel with his friend and business partner Gholam Dastaghir in Kabul as a kind of artistic commune and created large colourful embroideries, the most famous of these were the Mappa, world maps in which each country features the design of its national flag. In 1971, Boetti commissioned women at an embroidery school in Kabul to embroider his first map. He initially intended to make only one but went on to commission roughly 150 of them in his lifetime, with no two possessing exactly the same dimensions.
Boetti’s maps reflect a changing geopolitical world from 1971 to 1994, a period that included the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Embroidered by up to 500 artisans in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the maps were the result of a collaborative process leaving the design to the geopolitical realities of the time, and the choice of colours to the artisans responsible for the embroidery.
Boetti had his first US solo exhibition in New York at John Weber Gallery in 1973. In 1978, he held an anthological exhibition curated by Jean Christophe Ammann at the Kunsthalle Basel that featured historical works alongside more recent ones. He continued to show throughout Italy and the United States until his premature death. He was the subject of a retrospective in 1992 that traveled to Bonn and Münster, Germany, and Lucerne, Switzerland. He has been honored post-humously with several large-scale exhibitions, most notably at the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, Rome (1996); the Museum für Moderne Kunst in Vienna in 1997; the Museum für Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt am Main in 1998; Whitechapel Gallery, London (1999); and Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein, Vaduz. The artist took part in Documentas 5 (1972) and 7 (1982) and the Venice Biennale (1978, 1980, 1986, 1990, 1995). In 2001, the Venice Pavillon was completely dedicated to Alighiero e Boetti’s work. In 2012, the exhibition Game Plan traveled to MOMA (NYC) and Tate Modern (London).