Alighiero Boetti - Out of the Blue: The Enea Righi Collection London Friday, April 16, 2021 | Phillips

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  • Once defined by Hans Ubrich Olbrist as the European Andy Warhol, Alighiero Boetti, born in 1940 in the Italian city of Turin, was one of the most influential international artists of his generation. His first sculptural works from the late 1960s are associated with the Arte Povera movement, with whom he shared a preference for basic matter and anti-classical style. However, being more interested in concepts than materials, he soon deviated from it. Until his premature death in 1994, he went on to create a unique artistic narrative through play, poetry, measure, numbers, order and disorder, that he combined with material diversity and conceptual complexity, always expressed with extraordinary visual beauty. The artist did not follow a linear evolution in his practice, but rather focused on several threads that kept recurring throughout his life. The present seminal works exemplify five of them and take the viewer on a unique experience of what was both Boetti’s passion and biggest artistic achievement, the ability to travel in space and time.

    'Do you know why dates are important? Because if you write ‘1970’ for example on a wall, it looks like nothing much, nothing at all, but in thirty years’ time with every day that goes by, this date becomes more beautiful.'
    —Alighiero Boetti

    Alighiero Boetti
    Senza titolo (1977 per 1978)
    embroidery on fabric 
    98 x 91 cm (38 5/8 x 35 7/8 in.) 
    Executed in 1977-78.

    The first work made by Boetti representing a cross, Senza titolo (1977 per 1978) is a mesmerising large-scale early example of the artist’s celebrated tapestries, the Arazzi. The artist’s textile works began in the 1970s, when he traveled to Afghanistan and started to collaborate with local embroiderers, first in Kabul and, after the Soviet invasion in 1979, in Peshawar, Pakistan. Merging linguistic and numeric systems into a glimmering play of colour and pattern, the present work is constituted by individual letters arranged in an order that seems random. This chaos is only an illusion and hides a highly logical premise, only revealed to those able to find harmony in dissonance. The four black and white squares, read from top to bottom in sequential vertical columns for the two on the left and in horizontal rows for the two on the right, spell out the date of its creation, ‘millenovecentosettantotto’, 1978 in Italian. This was a seminal year in the artist’s life, with his first retrospective curated by Jean-Christophe Amman taking place at the Kunsthalle in Basel and his participation at the Venice Biennale. The central bright-coloured cross reads ‘per nuove autonomie,’ for new independences, ‘felici coincidenze,’ happy coincidences, ‘nuovi desideri,’ new desires, ‘felici alternanze,’ happy variations, ‘a KL,’ to Kabul, an homage to the city that he deeply loved, and ‘A E B,’ both his signature and double identity -Alighiero, the private person, and Boetti, the public one, shaman and showman at once. This work profoundly emblematises all the main elements of the artist’s vision, conveyed with full force.

    '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

    Alighiero Boetti
    Vedere i Laterali
    ballpoint pen on paper laid on canvas, in 3 parts
    each 101 x 71 cm (39 3/4 x 27 7/8 in.)
overall 101 x 213.6 cm (39 3/4 x 84 1/8 in.)
    Executed circa 1977.

    The Biro series started in the 1970s, when Boetti used a ballpoint pen, a common, quintessentially inexpensive object, to fill entire sheets of paper with ink, that later were green, red and black too. This early work from 1977, titled Vedere i Laterali, ‘Viewing the Sides’, is a triptych of three sheets of paper covered in ballpoint pen. The biro creates a cryptic message through the space of the alphabet on the left hand and the seemingly arbitrary arrangement of white commas throughout the three panels, that, when read sequentially from left to right, spell out the title itself.


    ‘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 Each Biro work contains panels that were done by different people, often students, and most times a man and a woman. In the eclectic portfolio of works by Alighiero Boetti, the Biro series can easily be compared to the equally important and parallel tapestries. Indeed, what the embroidery represents for an Afghan is what the ballpoint pen constitutes for a Westerner -both are the media that the entire community uses to speak, the expression of a collective memory. 
    'If to me the multitude of planes executed by Alighiero represented a delightful and playful concentration of an ideal sky, for my father this accumulation had to be developed to the extreme in order to achieve accuracy, precision and knowledge. (…) It was essential for him to catalogue every plane in existence and all the models in the world. A perfect inventory.' —Agata Boetti

    Alighiero Boetti
    biro on 3 adjoined sheets of paper mounted on canvas
    23 x 48 cm (9 x 18 7/8 in.)
    Executed in 1983.

    The current work is an example of the Aerei, ‘airplanes’, series that began in 1977 when Boetti started collaborating with the illustrator Guido Fuga. Here the ballpoint pen symbolises the air in which fly dozens of different airplanes, temporary and transient objects that may suddenly disappear beyond the frame, lost like Boetti in infinite possible journeys. The repetitiveness of the Aerei embodies the beauty of the compositional variety and its limitless possibilities, so important to the artist’s research. In line with the rest of his work, indeed, they may appear as disoriented and chaotic, yet are classifying and reasoned. The theme of time is also present, as the airplanes represent a meditation on the concept of movement and stillness through the human body and mind.

    'With microphones, lamps and viewfinders, still cameras and movie cameras, I wanted to create situations that engage the viewer in a new dimension.' 
    —Alighiero Boetti

    Alighiero Boetti
    Senza titolo
    ink on cardboard on linen 
    70 x 99.5 cm (27 1/2 x 39 1/8 in.)
    Executed in 1965.

    Senza titolo is an iconic example of a series of around fifty drawings that Boetti made with India ink in 1965 to represent industrial tools, such as combs, tumblers and bottles, desk lamps, microphones or cameras. The execution is strongly bidimensional and the objects, meticulously realised by the hand of artist, convey a feeling of a metaphysical restlessness and estrangement. The film camera in the present works seems to go beyond the pictorial plane and to involve the viewer in another world, parallel and maybe more authentic than the real one.


    Alighiero Boetti
    watercolour on offset print laid on canvas
    127 x 97.6 cm (50 x 38 3/8 in.)
    Executed in 1977.

    The need of Boetti for a collective participation to his work was also pursued with the Faccine, a series of offset prints that he gave to the public, sometimes children in schools, to paint as they liked. The present example belongs to the first edition from 1977, bigger than the later ones and, unlike them, stamped on the front. It was probably coloured by its initial owner, with an act of mutual creation that embodies the essence of Boetti’s vision of the world, that will eternally benefit from his art and go on also without him. 


    Francesco Clemente on Alighiero Boetti


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

    • Provenance

      Studio Cannaviello, Milan
      Galleria La Bertesca, Genoa
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1995

    • Exhibited

      Avignon, Collection Lambert, Theorema, Une Collection Privée en Italie. La Collection d'Enea Righi, 5 February – 29 May 2005, p. 239 (illustrated, pp. 126 - 127)
      Bolzano, Museion, Che Cosa Sono Le Nuvole?, 21 March - 19 September 2010
      Avignon, La Prison Sainte-Anne, La Disparition des Lucioles, 18 May – 25 November 2014, pp. 298, 374 (illustrated, p. 298)
      Venice, Palazzo Fortuny, Quand fondra la neige, où ira le blanc, 4 June – 6 November 2016, p. 33 (illustrated, Ciò che sempre parla in silenzio è il corpo, pp. 26-27)

    • Literature

      Jean-Christophe Ammann, Alighiero Boetti: Catalogo generale, Tomo terzo 1, Milan, 2015, no. 1457, p. 182 (illustrated, p. 183)



signed and dated 'alighiero e boetti 1983' on the reverse
ballpoint pen on 3 adjoined sheets of paper mounted on canvas
23 x 48 cm (9 x 18 7/8 in.)
Executed in 1983, this work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by the artist and a certificate of authenticity issued by the Archivio Alighiero Boetti, Rome, and is registered under Archive no. 2813.

Full Cataloguing

£80,000 - 120,000 

Sold for £214,200

Contact Specialist

Tamila Kerimova
Specialist, Director, Head of Day Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

+ 44 20 7318 4065

Out of the Blue: The Enea Righi Collection

London Auction 16 April 2021