2009 Weave of the week #31: Alighiero Boetti

Alighiero Boetti, Untitled 1988, detail

Alighiero Boetti, Untitled 1988, detail

I love crossword puzzles, and I love grids, and I love colored squares most of all, so I fell hard when I saw this week’s featured weave, Untitled 1988 (detail above), in the Marianne Boesky Gallery.  It is a handwoven woolen work by the Italian conceptual artist Alighiero Boetti (1940-94) that is part of a fascinating group show enigmatically titled Your Gold Teeth II. (Actually, the show’s title comes from “Your Gold Teeth II,” a mellow jazzy-folky Steely Dan ballad that can be heard here.)

To quote Roberta Smith, a New York Times art reviewer and a reliable guide to art world delights: “Mr. [Todd] Levin has assembled a visual rebus that deliberately ignores those increasingly irrelevant divides between art and craft, old and new, commercial and fine.”

Ms. Smith includes Alighiero Boetti in her list of the “fairly usual suspects” who have work in the show, but he was unknown to me except for his witty colored squares piece, Rosso Gilera, Rosso Guzzi, that was one of my favorite works in the Museum of Modern Art’s Color Chart:Reinventing Color show last year (the mother lode of colored squares).

In researching this article, I discovered that Boetti designed many “arazzi” (tapestries) like the one above that consist of colored letters arranged in a grid. The letters do spell out Italian phrases in a kind of code, but no translation was offered for Untitled.  Some of the other letter pieces that I found online are woven tapestries and some are satin stitch embroideries, with the weaving and embroidering done by women artisans in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Wikipedia entry goes so far as to say that the women were also responsible for choosing and arranging the colors.  Boetti started to outsource his textile production years ago, when he created the embroidered world maps that he is well known for.  (The Sperone Westwater Gallery has a large selection of Boetti’s work, including several of the maps, posted on their website.)

There was so much exciting work in the show — textile and (mostly) otherwise — that I spent a long time there and still didn’t really see it all. And some of it was hard to see, like Diane Itter’s small hand-knotted linen Moki, which was overshadowed by Ed Rossbach’s lace, and Marvin Lipofsky’s glass, shown in an installation shot here —

installation view

And here is a closeup of the Itter piece —


lopsided, but in more detail.

Serious works from different decades and different styles are smartly juxtaposed. I enjoyed seeing an eccentric George Ohr vase from the 1900s,  a small 2008 fabric sculpture by Shinique Smith (whom I wrote about recently), a chunky Peter Volkous hand-built clay vessel, and a thick coiled Franςoise Grossen rope sculpture, in an arrangement that made visual sense; or the tableau in the installation shot above. Those and other views of the show can be seen in the slideshow on the Marianne Boesky Gallery website.

Your Gold Teeth II is a summer pleasure. It’s on view until August 15 and very worth a trip if you’re in town.


10 Responses

  1. Hi again Edoardo,
    I do believe that you are Boetti’s number one fan! It was so thoughtful of you to post the map show information. Thank you very much.

    I am very pleased that you like my work. I will post some new scarves in a couple of weeks — but none with colored squares this time : (

    Bye from Brooklyn,

  2. Hi again Fern,
    I love so much NY and I miss being there.
    Boetti’s World Maps should be around November at the Barbara Gladstone Gallery. This will be up to today the largest Mappe show, I think approx 25-30 pieces from the early ’70s!
    I also wanted to say that I really love your scarfs!!!
    Ciao from Italy,

  3. Hi, Edoardo, I live in NY (well, Brooklyn, actually), and was going to see the works on paper show at MOMA soon anyway, so thank you for the extra motivation.

    And thank you also for the information about the upcoming Boetti show. That’s exciting news and I will surely be there (probably more than once).

    Keep in touch.


  4. Thank you Fern.
    I would like to make a little correction: the last line should translate: 100 WORDS SENT TO THE WIND.
    For those who are in NY, I’d suggest to pay a visit to the MOMA to see the “Compass in Hand” show, where there is a whole wall dedicated to Boetti’s works on paper. I saw the exhibition last may and it is really worth it. Link: http://www.moma.org/visit/calendar/exhibitions/311
    I know that later on this year there should be a major Boetti retrospective dedicated to his embroidered World Maps down in Chelsea. This should be around winter.
    I really hope to be back again in NY to see it.
    Nice reading you and meeting you!
    Ciao, Edoardo

  5. Grazie, Edoardo, for reading my article and for posting your fascinating and informative comments, and for providing a link to Boetti’s work. Your English is excellent so your explanation of how to read the tapestries is perfectly clear, but I appreciate the translation anyway.

    Thank you again for stopping by : )


  6. Hi everyone, I maybe Boetti’s number one fan, so I am very happy to have found this post.
    I know his oeuvre quite well and I can inform you about the full text of the tapestry. I recognize the text from the shape of the arazzo as in fact Boetti conceived just one vertical tapestry (embroidered in few specimens, all with different color variations).
    To read the text you need to divide the tapestry into 4 squares, one on top of the other, and each made of a grid of 4 x 4 letters.
    For each square you need to read four letters from top to bottom, then start again from the next column etc. I hope this is understandable 😉
    The Italian text reads:

    That may be traslated as:

    This link points to a full image work from the same group: http://www.boettiealighiero.virtuale.org/1980s/opere_anni_80_colonna.htm

    If you are interested, I could tell you many things about Boetti.

    Keep in touch,

  7. Don’t forget that my photo is only a detail so all the letters aren’t there, but the design is so beautiful on its own. Glad you like it too.


  8. It’s unanimous – I love the squares and letters too! My eye keeps wandering through it trying to make words….but I don’t speak Italian so I have to make up words!!


  9. Wow, thanks, Eva. I’m a big fan of Diane Itter’s work and went to the exhibition mainly to see her piece, and then, whammo! Boetti’s work knocked me out. Glad you agree.


  10. I love this! Thank you so much, Fern, I went to the site with Boetti’s work and they’re incredible, there are quite a few with the squares and letters and I especially like the embroidered ones. I’ve seen some of Diane Itter’s work before, it’s beautiful and interesting, and I really like the one you show here. You always pick great stuff to write about.


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