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Exhibition celebrates the genius of Alighiero Boetti with over 20 spectacular works
Installation view. Photo: Matteo De Fina.

VENICE.- Twenty-two years after the posthumous homage to Boetti curated by Germano Celant at the 2001 Venice Biennale, the Fondazione Giorgio Cini hosts an unprecedented journey through the work of Alighiero Boetti (1940-94), one of Italy’s most prominent and influential artists. Alighiero Boetti: Minimum/Maximum, curated by Luca Massimo Barbero, director of the Istituto di Storia dell’Arte della Fondazione Giorgio Cini, with the collaboration of the Archivio Alighiero Boetti, presents an original juxtaposition between the minimum and maximum formats of the artist’s most iconic cycles of works in order to explore Boetti’s artistic process and iconography. From one to many, micro to macro, and private to public, ‘Mimimum/Maximum’ explores the Boetti’s dialectical approach to art and examines the radically conceptual role of an artist who liked to define himself as a ‘creator of rules’.

‘This exhibition is not a retrospective but rather presents visitors with an unprecedented series of comparisons, inspired by the gathering of large-scale works by Boetti from public and private collections,’ explains Luca Massimo Barbero. ‘It is an organic project that was specially conceived for Venice at a time in which the role of Boetti as one of the major exponents of Italian art is being increasingly recognised internationally.’

The exhibition is organised by the Fondazione Giorgio Cini in collaboration with Tornabuoni Art and the Alighiero Boetti Archive. Its highlights include major loans from important private and public collections. Among these are the monumental watercolour triptych Aerei (1989) from the Fondation Carmignac, Mimetico (camouflage) (1967) from the Fondazione Prada and Lavoro Postale (permutazione) (postal work (permutation)) (1972) from the Stedelijk Museum, as well as loans from the Boetti family.

Divided into 11 sections with over 20 artworks, the exhibition contains Boetti’s most iconic cycles of works – Ricami (embroideries), Aerei (planes), Mappe (maps), Tutto (everything) and Biro (works made with a ballpoint pen) – as well as some less famous works such as the Bollini colorati (coloured stickers), la Storia Naturale della Moltiplicazione (natural history of multiplication) and the Copertine (magazine covers). It is also an opportunity to show works that are largely unknown to the greater public, such as the large-scale work with coloured stickers Estate 70 (1970) – on loan for this event from the artist’s family – and Titoli (1978), one of the largest formats from the rare series of monochrome embroideries.

The theme of the format is crucial to understanding the way Boetti conceived and realised his works and is directly connected to the concept of time, as in Estate 70, a monumental work that opens the exhibition – a twenty-metre roll of paper, onto which Boetti applied thousands of colourful stickers. This work is unique, not only in its scale, but also because it introduces in a powerful way how the notion of time is an essential element of Boetti’s work. For him, the process and time that it takes to make the artwork is part of the beauty of the artwork. The smaller works complement the meaning of the larger works in a dialogue that is characteristic of Boetti’s creative process.

The exhibition unfolds through focused comparisons between small and large, minimum and maximum, with works like Storia Naturale della Moltiplicazione, Mettere al mondo il mondo (to bring the world into the world) and Alternando da uno a cento e viceversa (alternating from one to one hundred and vice versa) – allowing the viewer to experience within a single space works from different phases of the artist’s career.

The exhibition also includes a screening of Niente da vedere Niente da nascondere (nothing to see, nothing to hide), a documentary made by Emidio Greco in 1978 on the occasion of the Boetti retrospective at the Kunsthalle in Basel. The film alternates between images of the Swiss exhibition and scenes of Boetti’s Roman studio and provides viewers with a way into the works on show through Boetti’s own words.

The exhibition then continues with the famous Mappe (maps) and with the Tutto (everything) – ‘a panoply of Boetti’s themes and images’ – explains Barbero – that introduces the seminal theme of the deferred realisation of the artwork, of travel and the nomadic aspect of art, in turn connected to the idea of time. This concept is most evident in the embroideries, which were begun by Boetti and his assistants in Rome, to then be sent to Kabul and later Peshawar in Pakistan following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. There, artisans from families of Afghan refugees embroidered them with colours of their own choosing according to the rules set by Boetti. The works were then returned to Rome, where the artist saw them completed for the first time. These and many other episodes in Boetti’s career reveal his philosophy that he as an artist creates the rules of the game and invites others to play it, that the act of creation involves a dialectical tension between control and chance, between the conceptual and the physical.

The section of the exhibition dedicated to these juxtapositions ends with the monumental Copertine (magazine covers), a 1984 work that speaks of media obsession and of the transmission, reproduction and reuse of images, implicitly questioning the truth of media images. This work leads into the special project by Hans Ulrich Obrist, Artistic Director for the Serpentine Gallery in London, and Agata Boetti, daughter of the artist and Director of the Archivio Alighiero Boetti. The project is a further example of Boetti’s essentially dialectical way of thinking as it revolves around the theme of photocopies.

‘Already in 1969 in Turin, I used to go to the Rank Xerox showroom with coins in my pocket and so many ideas. – said Boetti in 1991 – I used to say that the photocopier is not only a machine for the office – in the year 2000 everyone will have one in their living room! Give me one and I will document for you some of its creative applications. I didn't mean manipulating its mechanism or the ink like some have done from Munari onwards. No, I was interested in the standard application. But for example I would have put it on the balcony when it starts to rain, one drop, ten drops, a thousand drops...’

COLOUR=REALITY. B+W=ABSTRACTION (except zebras) explores Boetti’s ‘creative applications’ by showing together for the first time a group of works made with a copy machine in various moments of the artist’s career and which, according to Obrist, bear witness to Boetti’s passion for communication technologies (like the polaroid or the use of fax – introduced in the 1980s – which is a synthesis of post and photocopy) and invite viewers to imagine the creative uses which Boetti would have found for our current means of communication and reproduction of images:

‘By showing these works in an installation, as we are doing with the 1665 photocopies at the Fondazione Cini, we will show the public that Boetti was like an analogue version of the Internet,’ says Obrist, whose encounters with Boetti as a student inspired his curatorial practice. ‘He was like a search engine. He anticipated Google with analogue means.’ At the centre of the room dedicated to photocopies, visitors will be invited to use a real photocopier by following rules specially created by Mexican artist Mario Garcia Torres as an homage to Alighiero Boetti.

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