Alighiero Boetti - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale London Friday, March 3, 2023 | Phillips

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  • “I have done a lot of work which presents a visual disorder that is actually the representation of a mental order. It’s just a question of knowing the rules of the game. Someone who doesn’t know them will never see the order that reigns in things. It’s like looking at a starry sky. 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 

    This playful embroidered Diptych forms part of one of Alighiero Boetti's most iconic series – the Arazzi (Squares), which occupied the artist for over two decades of his career. The work consists of two mirrored embroideries identical in composition and content but differing in their colour scheme. Read centrifugally from top to bottom, the brightly coloured squares spell out Il Progressivo Svanir della Consuetudine, translating from Italian as ‘The Progressive Disappearance of Habit’. Bright, bold letters encased in complimentary-coloured squares – yellow on purple, green on red, blue on orange – create a distinctive and instantly recognisable image. Typical of the Arazzi series, Boetti’s lettering is neatly embedded within a perfect square, breaking the sentence into six vertical columns. He softens this modernist grid by embracing the uneven edges of the hand-embroidered letters – a distinctive characteristic of Boetti’s artistic oeuvre. At first, the densely packed letters present an image of disorder, but closer inspection reveals a carefully ordered structure. Boetti was preoccupied with the conceptual complexity of games, which he here translates into a chess-like canvas. He loved the intangible nature of the game, its purposelessness, and the nearly infinite possible combinations of moves and outcomes.


    In order to play any given game, we must first understand the rules that guide it, just as we must decipher the chaotic multiplicity that conceals the logical orderliness of Boetti’s work. Boetti crafts a unique and personal experience for each of his viewers, as his choice of words is enigmatic and seemingly without origin; for all we know, they might relay anything from a fictional slogan to a quote borrowed from Islamic philosophy. Thus, we are encouraged to draw our own interpretations from the work, which can be read in a myriad of ways.


    For his embroidery-based works, Boetti commissioned independent artisans to carry out the needlework from his original designs, thereby challenging the notion of the independent artist. in this regard, parallels can be drawn between Boetti and artists such as Andy Warhol who also shared the production of his works with assistants.  Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans (1962) are similarly iconic and striking in their aesthetic to Boetti’s Arazzi. The works are comparable not only in their modes of production, but also in their bold and immediately recognisable use of repeated symbols: Boetti’s letter-within-square and Warhol’s red cans. With their exploration of authorship and production, both series inspired ground-breaking discussions about the role of the artist in the 20th century.


    Andy Warhol, Campbell’s Soup Cans, 1962, The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Image: © The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence, Artwork: © 2023 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by DACS, London


    Completed in 1988 by Afghan female embroiderers under Boetti's instructions, Il Progressivo Svanir Della Consuetudine a unique and beautiful testament to his love for the country. The artist continuously travelled to Afghanistan for almost a decade before the Soviet invasion in 1979. One of the first embroideries to be produced by displaced Afghan refugees in Peshawar, Pakistan, this work carries great historic significance. The series not only empowered these women through their craftsmanship but has also become a symbol of war-torn Afghanistan. The embroideries display a beautiful dialogue between the East and the West, balancing the rich colours and intricate handiwork of traditional Afghan weaving with Boetti’s bold, geometric vision.


    • Provenance

      Private Collection (acquired directly from the artist)
      Thence by descent to the present owner


Il Progressivo Svanir Della Consuetudine

signed, inscribed and dated ‘alighiero e boetti L’OPPOSTO IL CONTRARIO L’INVERSO’ PESHAWAR 1988-9’ on the overlap of the left part; signed ‘alighiero e boetti’ on the overlap of the right part
embroidery on fabric, mounted on panel, diptych
left part 32.5 x 36.1 cm (12 3/4 x 14 1/4 in.)
right part 33.3 x 34 cm (13 1/8 x 13 3/8 in.)

Executed in 1988-1989, this work is registered with the Archivio Alighiero Boetti, Rome under numbers 10149 and 10150.

Full Cataloguing

£120,000 - 180,000 ‡ ♠

Sold for £215,900

Contact Specialist

Simon Tovey

Specialist, Associate Director, Head of Day Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art
+44 20 7318 4084

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale

London Auction 3 March 2023