Alighiero Boetti



Although Alighiero Boetti (born 16 December 1940 in Turin, Italy, and died 24 April 1994 in Rome) called himself a painter, he worked with a broad range of media and collected all kinds of materials and images.

His artistic career began in Turin in the 1960s at the heart of the Arte Povera movement – the primary Italian art movement of the time – participating in the Arte Povera group exhibition in September 1967. In later years he distanced himself from Art Povera and began working with simple geometrical shapes and drawing on paper. The results were often embroidered canvases that explored language and chance via words, letters, codes, numbers, hidden coordinates, dates, etc. His adoption of embroidery as one of his main artistic media was inspired by his first trip to Kabul Afghanistan in 1971, where he discovered the ancestral traditions of local weavers to whom he later delegated the task of producing his first Mappa, the now famous world maps with each country embroidered in the colours of its national flag.

Alighiero BOETTI‘s work therefore became highly dependent on the painstaking work of embroiderers who carefully executed his instructions (world maps, flags, alphabets, words, phrases, calligraphy) and occasionally took liberties with colour choices. Some of the works took several years to produce and Boetti would describe them as “concentrated time”, works that you had to wait for … or rather “that arrive when they arrive”. In effect, Boetti’s works represent not just time (his blue canvases with random commas), but also space, via his rethinking of the world map and political frontiers, via his postcards with altered borders, etc.
Boetti’s artistic vocabulary also had political dimension. For example, one of the major works at the Centre Pompidou in Paris – Tutto – is from a series embroidered in the early 1980s by Afghan refugees (women) in Peshawar Pakistan after the Soviet invasion. The context and personal histories of these craftswomen, as well the motifs taken from newspapers and magazines, anchors the work firmly in history.

The consistency and power of Boetti’s work make him one of today’s most sought-after Contemporary artists. Few of his works fail to sell (only 14%) and his price index has expressed constant inflation for the past 10 years, rising approximately 300%. His best works sell for over a million dollars and recently his prices appear to have accelerated rapidly: of his 19 auction results above the million-dollar mark, no less than 9 were hammered in 2014, including a new personal record above the $3 million threshold (for the first time). That record was generated by Christie’s in London on 16 October 2014 for an early work entitled Colonna, a column (from a set of 9) made in 1968. Colonna is a stack of thousands of industrially manufactured paper pastry doilies. The ribbed circumference of the stacked doilies echoes the fluted form of an ancient column, a metaphorical pillar of the world that already suggests the weaving to which he would later turn.

Boetti’s work enjoys international demand in the United States, the UK and the rest of Europe, (Italy, France, Austria, Germany, among others), but his pieces are increasingly channelled through the world’s leading marketplaces, with London being more attractive than New York. The UK generates over 70% of the artist’s auction turnover and all but one of his 7-figure results were hammered in London. London’s dominance is probably due to its relative ease of access for European collectors compared with New York and to the major retrospective that was held at the Tate Modern in 2012: Alighiero Boetti: Game Plan.

Boetti did not only produce monumental and large-scale works; lots of smaller embroidered works can still be acquired for less than $40,000. These are square (or almost square) formats (25 or 30 cm) that look like coloured details of larger works, and despite their small size, still manage to evoke the rhythm of a much larger space.

As regards his price inflation, artistic and historical reasons are not the only drivers; there is also a more practical explanation. As his embroidered works were produced post 1960’s, they do not need Italian government authorisation to leave the country, unlike works created over 50 years ago (including the historically significant works of the Arte Povera movement). The Italian market is in fact constrained by a regulatory system with export laws that are detrimental to the local market. Pending possible future changes in Italian regulations, and before celebrating their 50th anniversary, Boetti works are free to circulate on the international market.