Alighiero Boetti - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, October 2, 2019 | Phillips
  • Video

    Alighiero Boetti, 'Ogni lettera un suono', Lot 37

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 2 October 2019

  • Provenance

    Private Collection
    Christie's, London, 27 June 2001, lot 16
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Literature

    Jean-Christophe Amman, Alighiero Boetti: Catalogo generale, Tomo terzo / 1, Milan, 2015, no. 1385, p. 144 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Playfully spelled out across a vast expanse of deep, meandering blues, the titular sentence ‘Ogni lettera un suono’, or ‘Each letter a sound’, traverses the entirety of the three-metre horizontal surface, following Alighiero Boetti’s elaborate internal code. Vertically, an alphabet is laid out on the left side of the paper in the form of an index; horizontally, white commas are dispersed throughout the composition, as if waltzing from one pictorial area to another. Together, these elements enable the formulaic formation of words – themselves strung into a sentence – in a quintessentially Boetti fashion. Forming part of the artist’s seminal series of lavori biro (ball pen works) commenced in 1972 and continued through the late 1980s, Ogni lettera un suono, 1982-3, is a conceptually poignant and formally delectable example of his pioneering technique. The white commas dotting the oceanic background of the work resemble minuscule crashing waves from afar; it is only on close inspection – and strategic decipherment – that their referential meaning emerges. Deeply original in confection, Boetti’s biro works were traditionally created participatively, as Boetti would invite friends and acquaintances to fill large coloured sections of the multi-part surfaces by ball pen, typically alternating between a man and a woman from one sheet to another.

    A peripatetic autodidact, lovingly engaged with alchemy, philosophy and cultures other than his own, Boetti went to France to study engraving at the age of twenty. Upon returning to his native Turin in the early 1960s, he quickly rose to become one of the most prominent figures of Arte Povera – an artistic movement which was gaining increased momentum in Italy during that decade. Though his early artistic forays consisted largely of experimenting with industrial materials such as plaster, masonite, Plexiglas and light fixtures alongside other Arte Povera proponents such as Luciano Fabro, Mario Merz, Giulio Paolini and Michelangelo Pistoletto, Boetti began distinguishing his work through dedicating increased attention to various systems of classification – grids and maps – as a repeated theme within his oeuvre. The present work on paper is a result of this shift; its four-part construction exploits the most elementary qualities of the alphabet, singling out each letter to compose a discreet message that eludes immediate comprehension.

    Continuing to engage with an early preoccupation with – and commitment to – colour, Ogni lettera un suono allures the viewer’s eye with a hue that is both noble and inherently evocative. In keeping with the formal investigations that remained the focus of some of his Italian peers, namely Lucio Fontana and his groundbreaking cuts and slashes on monochromatic canvases, Boetti here uses the prodigious lapis lazuli colour as the dominant visual element to digest within the composition. As such, it is reminiscent of Fontana’s Concetto spaziale, attese, 1968, of which the deep azure surface similarly serves as both a backdrop and an elevator of the activity taking place within the composition – in this instance, seven brazen cuts, in Ogni lettera un suono, a message awaiting delivery. Additionally, the present work’s constitutive hue recalls Boetti’s major Mappa series, in which the artist would frequently employ a marine pigment to ground the woven lands, in an effort to match the traditional illustration of topographic maps.

    A penetrating example from Boetti’s witty, poetic, and quasi-algebraic opus, Ogni lettera un suono is a synaesthetic experience only reaffirmed by the title’s assertion. For every idiosyncratic symbol, a formula, and for every word, a sound; the kind of linguistic and visual syllogism only Boetti can creatively infer with such potent power.


Ogni lettera un suono

signed 'Alighiero e Boetti' on the reverse of the first panel
ballpoint pen and acrylic on paper, in 4 parts
each part 102 x 71.9 cm (40 1/8 x 28 1/4 in.)
overall 102 x 287.6 cm (40 1/8 x 113 1/4 in.)

Executed in 1982-3, this work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by the artist and is registered under Archive no. 2345.

£300,000 - 400,000 

Sold for £447,000

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Senior Director
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+44 20 7318 4060

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 2 October 2019