By Adriana Baranello

Conceptual artist Alighiero Boetti, also known as Alighiero & Boetti was born on 16 December 1940 in Turin. Boetti was one of the most influential Italian artists of the 20th century. Boetti was a member of the Arte Povera movement for several years, but broke with it in the mid-70s, when it was becoming too well established. As his career progressed, Boetti became fascinated with the use of lettering and color, and with the idea of “twinning.” This interest in dialectics crossed with semiotics led Boetti to take on the pseudonym Alighiero & Boetti in 1973, and is visually manifested in the artist’s 1977 self-portrait, which appears to show the artist holding his own hand. (He did not have a twin.) Boetti, like many other conceptual artists, often conceived of a work, but left the execution to others, also part of the process of “twinning.” The artist was deeply interested in geometry, geography, mathematics and the postal service, all of which would feature prominently in his works.

The series Mappa is perhaps Boetti’s most famous. After the Six Days War in 1967, Boetti began collecting maps of war zones, then traveled to Afghanistan in 1970 and 1970. The series of embroidered maps begun in 1971 following his second trip to Afghanistan, and the latest in the series is from 1994, the year of Boetti’s death. The maps, each produced by women weavers in Afghanistan and Pakistan as were Boetti’s many other embroideries, detail the changing political and ideological boundaries of the world. Each is different, and most of them include lettering, both Latin and Arabic on the borders, with various messages.

Another curiosity of Boetti’s work is the Manifesto (image 6, above) from his 1975 solo held at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. The show was a collection of the artist’s prints from 1966-1975, but the 1968 Manifesto became one of Boetti’s most famous works, other than the Maps. The manifesto lists the artists that were then associated with the Arte Povera movement, each with a series of symbols next to their name. Boetti claimed that there was a key to the code, and that he intended to keep it secret until after his death. However, at this time, no key has yet to come to light. Recently, the Fondazione Alighiero e Boetti stated that it intended now to wait until after the deaths of the other persons featured in the manifesto. There are doubts, though, that any such key to decoding the works still exists, or perhaps it never existed at all.

Mappa, 1978, embroidery on cotton.

Mappa, 1990, embroidery on cotton.


Non parto non resto, 1984, ballpoint pen on paper over canvas, MAMBo, Bologna.

Alighiero & Boetti, self-portrait, 1977

Manifesto from Insicuro Noncurante, 1966-1975, ink on paper, original version printed in 1968.

Me Sunbathing in Turin, 19 January 1969

Alighiero Boetti a Roma, La Mostra, MAXXI Roma (video in Italian)

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