Alighiero Boetti (1940-1994)
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Alighiero Boetti (1940-1994)


Alighiero Boetti (1940-1994)
embroidered tapestry
45 5/8 x 85½in. (116 x 217cm.)
Executed in 1989
Alessandro Seno, Milan.
Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
New York, Barbara Gladstone Gallery, Alighiero e Boetti, November 2009-January 2010
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Lot Essay

This work is registered in the Archivio Alighiero Boetti, Rome, under no. 4937.

'Of One Essence is the Human Race,
Thusly has Creation put the Base.'
(Sa'di as quoted in Farsi in the border of the present work,
13th Century, translated by Iraj Barishi)

Executed in 1989, this work is a unique and particularly poignant example of the extraordinary Mappe series. The radiant deep-blue sea makes it an extremely rare example in this series with a dark blue background, alongside the Mappa in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, which has a black background. In addition, the twin inscriptions on this Mappa - articulating the East-West dialogue between Boetti, in Rome and the Afghan weavers at this time living in exile from their homeland in Peshawar - reflect powerfully on the central meaning of the series as a whole. Its Farsi inscription reads, 'Of One Essence is the Human Race, Thusly has Creation put the Base'. These are the first lines of one of best-known poems by the famous medieval Persian poet Sa'di'. These are lines of poetry not only known across the entire Persian-speaking world but which, on account of their articulate expression of the inherent unity of the world, also adorn the Hall of Nations in the United Nations building in New York. On this Mappa these lines are accompanied by a repetitive and expanding phrase in Italian of Boetti's devising that reads, A tempo in tempo col tempo il temporalea (in time, on time, with time, the temporal). In contrast to the message of unity in the quotation from Sa'di this phrase refers to the constant flux and change of the world and to what is perhaps the central concept of Boetti's entire oeuvre and the effective author of these 'open works'; Time.

Reflective of both a dialogue and an exchange between East and West as well as of the constantly changing patterns of the world, the Mappe seemed to embody what was then, in the immediate wake of the Cold War, a newly emerging sense of the world as a more holistic, interactive and intercommunicative entity. In the last few years, amidst the radical change, expanding fields and ever-increasing march of globalisation, these radiant and ultimately optimistic images of the political world-map as a unity and diversity held in a state of perpetual flux, now seem more than ever to stand as prophetic icons of the fluid, fast-track and perpetually-changing global era of the 21st century. In a similar way too, Boetti himself has also now emerged from his own time as one of a handful of pioneers in the field of both Conceptual Art and Arte Povera to be seen more universally as a prophetic spirit whose quiet wisdom, simple yet expansive aesthetic and inclusive and collaborative working practice have established him as one of the first and finest practitioners of a truly global art.
Like all truly great and enduring works of art, Alighiero Boetti's Mappe - the trans-global collaborative series of embroidered world d world maps that he made in partnership with village Afghan women weavers are works that have proven to be far ahead of their time. This profound series of holistic and temporal geo-political tapestries are now widely recognised as being not only among the artist's most important creations but also as fascinatingly accurate predictions of the creations but also as fascinatingly accurate predictions of the constantly shifting sands of today's geo-political world.

'For me the work of the embroidered Mappa' Boetti famously said, is the 'ultimate in beauty. For that work I did nothing, chose nothing, in the sense that: the world is made as it is, not as I designed it, the flags are those that exist, and I did not design them; in short, I did absolutely nothing; when the basic idea, the concept, emerges everything else requires no choosing.' (Alighiero e Boetti, 1974, quoted in Alberto Boatto, Alighiero & Boetti, Ravenna, 1984, p. 122). Boetti's flowing phrase, A tempo in tempo col tempo il temporalea refers to the fact that the Mappe unlike any supposedly fixed representations of the world, and this would include Jasper Johns' 1960s paintings of maps for example, are merely frozen images of the fluid passage of time. In the context of time, and therefore of course, human history too, form is not fixed but also fluid. This concept of flux which underpins all the Mappe can be seen most clearly from the fact the Mappe originally evolved from a work entitled 'Twelve forms from June '67 Onwards' that presented the outlines of twelve countries in a state of political crisis or military conflict at this time. 'What interested me in these drawings' Boetti remarked, was the fact that these outlines 'were not spawned by my imagination, but prompted by artillery attacks, air raids and diplomatic negotiations.' (Alighiero Boetti quoted in Alighiero Boetti, exh. cat., Frankfurt Am Main, 1998 p. 65). First, in his blueprint-like drawing Political Planisphere and ultimately in the embroidered Mappe, Boetti expanded this concept to include the whole world and the constantly changing passage of human history as it seems to write itself across it. Creating painstakingly handcrafted embroidered images that depict the political world map at a specific moment in time but which are themselves made over a long period (between one and two years in most cases and sometimes longer), and which, with their segregated divisions, are also reflective of the even longer span of human history, the Mappe become a powerful graphic expression of humanity's temporal relationship with and divided concept of the world. Images of time and of the unpredictable history of man, the Mappe are also collectively, if also inadvertently specifically expressive too of the turbulent history of Afghanistan between the years 1971 and 1994 when they were created. Of the many changing flags representing Afghanistan, this Mappa for example, displays the second flag of the 'Republic of Afghanistan' used by the country between 1987 and 1989. Dating from 1989 it in fact records the last period of the Communistbacked presidency of Dr Najibullah who was appealing to the United Nations at this time for help before the taking of Kabul by the US-backed Mujahedin.

One of a series of Mappe made by refugees from the Afghan war with whom Boetti had re-established contact when they resettled over the border in Peshawar, the manner and location of this work's manufacture is another important reflection on the fluid nature of man-made lines and borders that these works aim to express. The Mappe were made in order to 'erase the distance between Rome and Kabul' Boetti wrote revealingly on the border of one of his Mappa. In these works, the artist's innate sense of the inherent unity and diversity of all things and of the Heraclitan and Sufi principle of an intrinsic 'ordine e disordine' (order and disorder) lying at the heart of all existence was transcribed and extended into a real East-West cultural and commercial dialogue and exchange. After the creation of the concept of the Mappe in his Political Planisphere, the next logical expansion of this concept of a unified world divided into colourful abstract parts, was to fuse those divisions and transcend their artifice by actually physically crossing those borders in the form of travel and cultural interchange.

Boetti first visited Afghanistan in 1971, and on his second visit later that year established his 'One' hotel in Kabul and commissioned the first of what would become an ongoing and continuous series of Mappe. In this way, as in his postal works and years before telecommunications and the creation of the internet would shrink the world, Boetti was beginning to expand his unified and global concept of art and humanity through the mechanisms of trade and
information exchange that were already extant. In the commissioning of the production of his Mappe from local women weavers for example, Boetti effectively opened a new commercial East-West dialogue not based on exploitative trade but on a spirit of cross-cultural collaboration that ultimately had an important influence for both Afghanistan and Europe. Among the first artists not only to have his work manufactured by assistants but also in the non-mechanised archaic and folk art handicraft tradition of a 'Third World' country, the Mappe represent a bridging of the modern and the ancient worlds as much as they do a crossing of the traditional East-West divide. At the same time, in Afghanistan, Boetti's commissioning of the Mappe eventually had the effect of reinvigorating the ancient weaving tradition in Afghanistan that had been dying out.

The importance of this trans-global cross-cultural dialogue in the Mappe is often asserted in these works through the twinned messages, inscriptions and titles written in Italian and Farsi that Boetti chose to use as the border or frame of the Mappe. Using phrases split into their own individual letters and set on a differently coloured background in the manner of his Arazzo, these statements not only established a cross-cultural sense of unity and diversity but also pointed to the same inherent unity and diversity existing within the properties of words and language. The twinned messages about time and the interconnectedness of all humanity on this Mappa make it one of the most appropriate and articulate expressions of this concept in all of the series. In addition to this, another key feature of these works is their hand-made quality and the many accidental errors, mistakes and inaccuracies that these works often include.

A particularly interesting feature of this Mappa in this respect too, is that here, the written instructions indicating the colours of each country's flags has been inadvertently incorporated by its makers into the woven design of each flag. While all the Mappe are individual works, unique in colour, dimension and twinned inscription, this work includes an additional element to make it unique, personal and individual. 'Through his simple gestures' one critic has written of Boetti's Mappe, he 'brought to light hidden structures, presenting them as if anew'. (Luca Cerizza, Alighiero e Boetti. Mappa, London 2008, p. 23). In an interesting parallel of this aspect of his work and as an accidental extension of Boetti's own conceptual practice, here, one of his own supposedly hidden instructions has been allowed to become an overt, open and integrated part of his iconic concept of the world map as a graphic illustration of the principle of 'ordine e disordine' in action.

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