Alighiero Boetti - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale London Thursday, October 13, 2022 | Phillips

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  • The only existing work by Alighiero Boetti with this phrase, Uno a zero is a unique and beautiful example of the artist’s multicoloured Arazzi. The artist conceived the tapestries, his most celebrated series, when he first traveled to Kabul in the 1971. Executed by Afghan embroiderers under Boetti’s instructions, the production had to be moved to Peshawar in Pakistan after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. There the artist continued his creation of Arazzi, Mappe and Tutto until his death in 1994. 
    The current embroidery was realised in 1977, a seminal year for Boetti, who, after being initially associated with the Arte Povera movement in his hometown Turin, moved to Rome in 1972. There he was following his own path and gaining critical recognition for his creative, playful and deeply intellectual approach to life and art. In the year he created this work, Boetti had solo shows at Marlborough Gallery in Rome, Galleria dell’Ariete in Milan, Annamarie Verna in Zurich and at the Centre d’Art Contemporain in Geneva. He also made his eleventh trip to Afghanistan, where he brought along his son Matteo, who was only seven years old at the time.
    When he conceived the Arazzi, Boetti’s intention was to create a mosaic-like grid where he would incapsulate individual letters and numbers in what he would have defined as a disordered order. This chaos was only an illusion and hid highly logical rules, that were only revealed to those who could find their own harmony in dissonance. The squares, read in unconventional fashion, vertically from top to bottom, left column to right, spell out the words Uno a zero, that, translated from Italian, means One to zero. The artist was extremely fascinated by mathematics and numbers, and this sentence, very dear to him, can be found in a lot of his notes and works on paper from the 1970s. Other phrases of the Arazzi range from proverbs to poetry to the setting out of mathematical problems. Each letter is both autonomous and part of a bigger scheme, and, by breaking text down into its singular parts, the artist exposes language as a sophisticated but artificial arrangement of forms. 
    ‘What are numbers? I have a nose. I have two eyes. I know where my nose is, and I know where my two eyes are. But where is number one? Where is number two? Who invented them? There are numbers in a lot of places. They are everywhere’ wrote Giovanni Jervis, a psychiatrist and Boetti’s friend on the preface of his artist’s book Da uno a dieci, edited in 1980. 
    The colours of the present work, a palette of reds, oranges and browns, alternated with some brightful blues and greens, resonate with the nuances of the sun from the Southern Hemisphere, that Boetti was so attracted to. The central square, in a delicate beige, echoes the earth of Afghanistan his adoptive country where he felt a sense of belonging, before having to leave too soon.  

    • Provenance

      Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner


Uno a Zero

signed and inscribed 'alighiero e boetti Kabul' on the overlap
embroidery on fabric
21.5 x 21 cm (8 1/2 x 8 1/4 in.)
Executed circa 1977, this work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by the Archivio Alighiero Boetti, Rome and is registered with the Archivio Alighiero Boetti, Rome under archive no. 10123.

Full Cataloguing

£70,000 - 90,000 ‡♠

Sold for £264,600

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 13 October 2022