Alighiero Boetti - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, March 7, 2024 | Phillips

Create your first list.

Select an existing list or create a new list to share and manage lots you follow.

  • “I have done a lot of work on the concept of order and disorder. Disordering order or putting order into certain kinds of disorder, or again presenting a visual disorder that was actually the representation of a mental order. It is just a question of knowing the rules of the game. (…) It is like looking at a starry night. Someone who does not know the order of the stars will see only confusion, whereas an astronomer will have a very clear vision of things.”
     —Alighiero Boetti


    Instantly recognisable as belonging to one of Alighiero Boetti’s most iconic and beloved series, this Aerei from 1988 poetically distils key conceptual elements of the Italian artist’s project, balancing order and disorder, visual elegance and philosophical depth. Dramatically contrasted against a dark ground intricately rendered in ballpoint pen, the ethereal white forms of a dizzying array of Concordes, passenger planes, and fighter jets whirl and pirouette weightlessly across its surface, tracing invisible flight paths that extend well beyond the paper’s edge. A wonderful, large example of this esteemed series, the present work also highlights Boetti's fascination with questions of dimension, scale, and the translation of his core concepts in these terms. 

    Boetti and the Biro


    A self-taught artist, Boetti first rose to acclaim in the 1960s as an artist affiliated with the Arte povera movement, employing everyday materials as a challenge to western art historical canons and the grand tradition of Italian art. By the 1970s, the artist had relocated from the Turin of his birth to Rome, reinventing himself as ‘Alighiero e Boetti’, signalling the collaborative focus that his work would take from this point on. In the early 1970s Boetti embarked on his Lavori Biro series, his first experiments in ballpoint pen that would go on to inform the process involved in the later Aerei works. As Giorgio Verzotti has described, ‘In his universe of meaning, ballpoint pens also served to dispel better the distinctive, unique, and inimitable act in the sea of collective and anonymous signs that is the basic intention of Boetti’s art, these works’ surfaces appear indented by commas, small white zones, each of which correspond to one of the letters of the alphabet, it is connecting comma and letter that the phrase the work conceals finally emerges. The simple mechanism of deconstructing language actually causes the rebirth of all languages, words, signs, painting and so on.’i


    Alighiero Boetti, I sei sensi (detail), 1975, Museo del Novecento, Milan. Image: akg-images / Mondadori Portfolio, Artwork: © Alighiero Boetti Estate / DACS, London 2024

    Importantly, these Lavori Biro works were conceived of as collaborative endeavours, with each piece comprised of panels completed by Boetti’s students and friends, a practice that would be taken forward in the later Aerei series. Drawing on Boetti’s fascination with the aeroplane motif and the vast collection of illustrations that the artist gathered from newspapers and magazines, he first started the series in 1977, embarking on a collaboration with the illustrator and architect Guido Fuga that would last over ten years. Featuring hand-drawn aeroplanes of all different sizes and models, all carving their flight paths out against the sky in a stunningly varied and infinite aerial ballet, these are works of remarkable elegance. In their repetitiveness, the Aerei works embody a limitless compositional variety that so fascinated Boetti, while the seeming chaos of the weaving, looping forms speaks playfully to the artist’s interest in systems of knowledge – of sequence, and modes of classification, and of the complex interchanges between order and disorder in how we perceive the world around us.  


    Given the rapid expansion of commercial air travel during the period, the works feel remarkably of their time, capturing the sense of excitement and freedom offered by global travel. Certainly, Boetti himself travelled extensively, making frequent and productive trips to far-flung places like Afghanistan, Guatemala, Ethiopia, Japan, and Peshawar. Developed contemporaneously with the multicoloured tapestries from the artist’s celebrated Mappe series, the Aerei works embody the artist’s global sensibilities, and abiding interest in modes of communication and collective cultural expression. Long fascinated by the invisible paths taken by postal letters and aircraft, inventory and classification, as well as modes of collaboration, towards the end of his life Boetti realised one, final ambitious artwork. In an interview with curator Hans Ulricht Obrist the artist revealed that ‘my dream would be to exhibit all of the airplanes of one airline and have puzzles distributed in installation on all airplanes’, a project brought into reality in collaboration with Obrist in 1991.ii Six of Boetti’s watercolour Aerei were published in the Austrian Airlines inflight magazine, alongside a puzzle designed to fit perfectly into the recessed tray tables which passengers could request and make for themselves. Physically travelling across the globe, made and remade in a collective and deeply collaborative practice, it was in this extension of the Aerei that Boetti achieved his dream of creating a truly global artwork for the modern age. 


    Alighiero Boetti, Mappa del Mondo, 1989, The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Image: The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence, Artwork: © Alighiero Boetti Estate / DACS, London 2024

    Collector’s Digest


    • In 2011 a major retrospective of Alighiero Boetti's work was mounted at the Reina Sofía in Madrid, which went on to travel to the Tate Modern in London and The Museum of Modern Art in New York.


    • A comparable black Aerei is held in the permanent collection of The Museum of Modern Art in New York. 


    • Boetti is represented in numerous important public collections worldwide. Notable solo exhibitions have taken place at the Centre National d’Art Contemporain de Grenoble, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, and the P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in New York.


    i Giorgio Verzotti, Alighiero Boetti quasi tutto, exh. cat, GAM Bergamo, 2004, p. 67.

    ii Alighiero Boetti, quoted in ‘An Interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist’, Contemporary Practices, 2008, vol.4, p. 108.  

    • Provenance

      Private Collection, Bologna
      Private Collection (acquired from the above in the 1990s)
      Private Collection (thence by descent from the above)
      Christie’s, London, 12 February 2015, lot 172
      Private Collection
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Literature

      Laura Cherubini, ed., Alighiero Boetti, Florence, 2016, pp. 182-183 (illustrated, p. 183)



signed, inscribed and dated ‘alighiero e boetti Roma 1988’ on the reverse of the central canvas
ballpoint pen on paper laid on canvas, in 3 parts
each 64 x 44.5 cm (25 1/4 x 17 1/2 in.)
overall 64 x 133.5 cm (25 1/4 x 52 1/2 in.)

Executed in 1988, this work is registered in the Archivio Alighiero Boetti, Rome, under number 4923, and is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity.

Full Cataloguing

£250,000 - 350,000 ‡♠

Sold for £254,000

Contact Specialist

Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4060

Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+44 20 7318 4099


20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 7 March 2024