Rules of the game

Alighiero Boetti: Game Plan, a retrospective exhibition of Boetti, a highly versatile artist is currently on view until 1 October at MoMA.  It would be very ambitious to try and cover the entire timeline of Boetti's life's work in a blog post, however for anyone who is familiar with Boetti's work and his mission as an artist, it would probably be best to say that the fewer words used is a fuller description.  Which is to say, the conceptual element of the work dominates and all else visual is to be experienced first-hand on site.  Nonetheless, I shall try my best to provide some personal reflections of the exhibition and to describe a few pieces that particularly tickled my fancy. 

Alighiero Boetti: Game Plan Alighiero Boetti (Italian, 1940-1994). Legnetti colorati (Colored Sticks). 1968. Wood, synthetic polymer paint, elastic bands 13 ¾” (35 cm) height; 63” (160 cm) diameter Private Collection. © 2012 Estate of Alighiero Boetti / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SIAE, Rome.
Image courtesy m 1F media project

Before entering into the exhibition proper, two signs of ping and pong flashes; as one goes on and off while the other one appears on and off in correspondence, giving off the impression of a table tennis game. As one player serves the ball, and the other runs to hit it back- hence the game is on!

PING PONG. 1966
Wood, glass, and electrical device. Each: 19 11/16 x 19 11/16 x 7 7/8" (50 x 50 x 20 cm). Goetz Collection, Munich. © 2012 Estate of Alighiero Boetti/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/SIAE, Rome. Photo © Giorgio Colombo, Milano 
Image courtesy ARTOBSERVED
Image edited by me

It was said by AB that: "he who plays alone never loses", in a sense this is quite true however as in any game, rules must be placed in order to commence.  Therefore in AB's work, there it took on rather complex but interesting visual juxtapositions and seemingly convoluted formations. One of the ways to pass time is to invent an alter-ego, an opponent or someone to have a dialogue with. In some of his works, there is often the presence a self-double. As in with his word-play pieces, his referred to Alighiero and Boetti as two different people. For those that were familiar with Alighiero, whom enjoyed witty pranks with his fellow artists and friends, such as when he made a post-card of the artist holding hands with himself walking off into a leafy background then post it off. As for Boetti, that would be the more formal reference to him as an artist who believed thinking was the highest form of  beauty in human and thus the conceptual element in his work predominated and put the jokes somewhat secondary as the end-product of his thought.


Gemelli (Twins),1968
Photomontage
5 7/8 x 3 15/16" (15 x 10 cm) Private collection
Image courtesy ARTOBSERVED
Emme I Elle Elle E . . . 1970
Crocheted lace. 10 5/8 x 10 5/8" (27 x 27 cm). Private collection. © 2012 Estate of Alighiero Boetti/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/SIAE, Rome 
Image courtesy MoMA
Language is a vehicle for thoughts, something unique to humans thus far. The interesting aspect of language is that they only mean something when they are referencing to something else. In itself, language is nothing, but its activity only ignites when put together abetting certain common grammatical rules then it becomes a transportation for communication between, say you and I, now.

In 1970, AB created a phonetic spelling of the Italian word for nineteen seventy-millenovecentosettanta in forty-eight different ways.  Then delegated to his wife, Annemarie Sauzeau, to crochet a lace square with all the letters of the word millenovecentosettanta but in dis-order.  The result is this hand-crocheted piece laced with seemingly indecipherable letters and their meaning. However, once the rules are learned, then one would begin to understand the meaning. (see image above) 

Senza titolo (Untitled). 1969
Ink and stickers on paper. 78 3/4 x 78 3/4" (200 x 200 cm). Private collection. © 2012 Estate of Alighiero Boetti/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/SIAE, Rome 
Image courtesy atractivoquenobello

Order and dis-order always go hand-in-hand. There would not be order without the presence of dis-order and vice versa. AB's affinity to experimenting between order and dis-order is prevalent in his works that consisted of large surfaces adorned with small symbols of which to viewers who are not aware of the rules of which AB assigned himself, they look a mess. When I say a mess, it is as in apart from its visual harmony of colors and compositions, its meaning and placement looks beyond comprehension.  The piece above looks to have been worked on as individual squares at first with pen marks and stickers.  Then the smaller square pieces seem to be pieced together as if a jigsaw puzzle of which resulted in this formation of symbols that look to be in uniform but all in all without a strictly defined pattern.  AB had said that the order and dis-order presented in the works was not only purely visual, but they came from an inner psyche of chaos.

I sei sensi (The Six Senses), 1974*
*here I might have mis-titled the piece, I shall explain in the follow paragraph
Image courtesy Contemporary Art Daily

I sei sensi (The Six Senses), 1974* (detail)
*here I might have mis-titled the piece, I shall explain in the follow paragraph
Image courtesy google
Like the piece shown previously, when AB began to use more "conventional" medium such as a ball-point pen or stickers, I sei sensi presents a constellation of chaos and order. Right-handed by nature, AB liked to use his left hand at times when he drew and made works. It was his way of forming a dialogue with himself as I mentioned earlier, that when he often invented an alter-ego of himself. Here the lines were drawn side by side with hand-strokes in different directions and thus gave off a sense of depth as oppose to just a flat drawing made with a ball-point pen (by the look of it, it probably took more than just one pen). While speaking of order versus dis-order, AB also explained that when an ordinary person looks up at a sky of stars and its constellation, it may look chaotic as in dis-order, however to an astronomer the stars and its constellation makes perfect sense and positively decipherable. In this work, it appeared as if AB had created a grid, but an irregular grid-which is to say, something like a dis-order skewing the orderly conventional grid.

The sixth sense (I sei sensi), is the ability to think. As AB admitted of his natural affinity that it is the highest form of being human in an interview first published in A.E.I.O.U., no.6, December 1982 with Bruno Corà. This interview could be found in the current MoMA exhibition catalog.

This notion of high regard for human thought is what I like the most and what is prevalent in his work. Another example is when AB produced a paper collage work that referred to nature as being a dull affair... as the wall text complements: "nature is not innate but perceptual... through excellence of human mind."  (Note: Here AB simply responded to a book published in 1926 with his work)

Mappa (Map)
1989-1994
Embroidery on fabric
100 x 231 1/2" (254 x 588 cm) Collection Giordano Boetti, Rome

Image courtesy m 1F media project


This work- Mappa was photographed by so many visitors without taking the precaution of turning off the flash on the cameras, I hope it fades gracefully in time and is not accelerated by our international visitors' intriguing curiosities. It is no wonder why so many liked this work for it almost represents each and everyone of us, or at least gives an easy visual cue as to what it is suppose to be. As for the game? Well, AB could not have said it more candidly:

"For me, the work on embroidered maps achieved the highest form of beauty. For the finished work, I myself did nothing, in the sense that the world as it is (I didn't draw it) and the national flags are as they are ( I didn't design them). In short, I did absolutely nothing. What emerges from the work is the concept."

Io che prendo il sole a Torino il 19 gennaio 1969 (Me Sunbathing in Turin 19 January 1969)
1969
111 pieces of concrete molded by hand, cabbage butterfly

69 11/16 x 35 7/16" (177 x 90 cm) Private collection, Turin 
Image courtesy YaleBooks
 
Autoritratto (Self-Portrait)
1993
Bronze and electrical and hydraulic attachments 80 x 37 x 20" (203.2 x 94 x 50.8 cm)
The Rachofsky Collection
Image courtesy MoMA
When I first stated writing this post, I knew it was going to be a bit of a challenge because of his wide scope of work and its complexity in various forms from childish games to more complicated plays of letters, numbers and human language most of all. And... I haven't really covered everything that I wanted to. But I shall end, as the night is drawing nearer to dawn. In the last two images, AB's humor, I found very touchingly romantic and also recapitulates the spirit of this exhibition. The first one hardly needs any introduction as the title pretty much describes the piece, with the exception that there is a small yellow butterfly placed at the heart of the figure of which is not visible in this photo. The last image is of a bronze sculpture of AB himself, he seems to be hosing himself with water over the head, where most of the thinking took place. What's funny is when the weather turns swelteringly hot, the cool water coming down would evaporate into a light mist of a halo around his head.

Finally...and if I may mention one more personal serendipity as I am writing this post, a long-time friend who I hadn't seen in 8 years came back from Turin (where Alighiero Boetti was born and lived) for a 2-week visit to New York.  She is on a plane back home to Torino right now... bon voyage! 

Comments

Popular Posts