Alighiero Boetti (1940-1994)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM A EUROPEAN PRIVATE COLLECTION
Alighiero Boetti (1940-1994)

Piccolo medio grande

Alighiero Boetti (1940-1994)
Piccolo medio grande
signed, inscribed and dated '3 carte Alighiero e boetti 74' (on the reverse of the left element)
black ballpoint on paper laid down on canvas, in three elements
each: 61¾ x 43¼in. (157 x 110cm.)
overall: 61¾ x 129¾in. (157 x 330cm.)
Executed in 1974
Monika Sprüth Galerie, Cologne.
Leccese Gallery, Milan.
Private Collection.
Anon. sale, Christie's London, 16 October 2006, lot 245.
Vedovi Gallery, Brussels.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
J. C. Ammann, Alighiero Boetti, Catalogo Generale Tomo secondo, Milan, 2012, no. 583 (illustrated in colour, p. 141).
Frankfurt am Main, MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst, Alighiero Boetti: Mettere al mondo il mondo, 1998 (illustrated in colour, p. 161), p.331 (with incorrect execution date 1976).
Munich, Monika Sprüth/ Philomene Magers, Alighiero Boetti - Works 1966-1988, 2002 (illustrated in colour with incorrect execution date 1976 and titled Untitled (Piccolo, medio, grande), pp. 26-27).
Special notice
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

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Barbara Guidotti
Barbara Guidotti

Lot Essay

‘All that is important is the rule. Anyone who does not know it, will never recognise the prevailing order in things, just as somebody who does not know the order of the stars will always see confusion where an astronomer has a very clear view of things’ – Alighiero e Boetti
(Boetti, quoted in Alighiero Boetti. Mettere al mondo, exh. cat., Frankfurt, 1998, p. 311).

‘A word turns into a sign, into a compilation of commas with a meaning. You see, that is a rule. You follow the thread of these commas. To follow the thread of a conversation is a tautology, and, quite apart from the rule, there is the structure of the transformation of the word into a sign. This is what you must make visible, you must render the comma as something that is not stable, that is unstable, and these small white points stand on a background hatched with pens by another hand.’ – Alighiero e Boetti
(Boetti, quoted in Alighiero Boetti: Mettere al mondo il mondo, exh. cat., Frankfurt, 1998, p. 63).

Executed over the course of several months in 1974, Piccolo, medio, grande comes from Alighiero e Boetti’s acclaimed series of ballpoint drawings (lavori biro) which explore the relationships between linguistic, numerical and visual systems of information and knowledge. Begun in 1972, these works utilise the simple medium of the ballpoint pen to create richly textured fields of colour, each panel filled with delicate strokes of ink, while a number of small, bright white commas are scattered across the large pieces of paper. Though seemingly dispersed at random, each comma is carefully placed so as to correspond to a particular letter of the alphabet, identifiable by tracing the order of their position and aligning them with the alphabetical key that marks the left hand side of the composition. Reading from left to right, the viewer is able to gradually decipher the coded message by tracing the invisible lines between the commas and the letters, revealing a self-reflexive spelling of the title of the work. Involving the viewer in the process of ‘uncovering’ the meaning of the artwork, Boetti creates a playful game that both deconstructs and celebrates the power of letters to convey information.

In each of the lavori biro Boetti employed a group of collaborators to realise his vision – while the artist developed the concept for each work, and planned and defined the basic grid pattern of the background, the actual execution of the composition was left to external craftspeople. A similar method was used in the artist’s Arazzi and Mappe series, which both relied on the technical skills of a group of Afghan embroiderers for their fabrication. By adopting this process, Boetti established a form of relational aesthetics whereby he could explore the role of the artist as a conceiver but not ultimate creator of a work of art, undermining the perception of the artist as supreme genius. In the case of the biro drawings Boetti recruited his assistants from his local neighbourhood of Trastevere in Rome, and requested that each alternating panel was coloured by a member of the opposite sex. Armed with a clearly defined set of rules, these anonymous collaborators would spend countless hours carefully filling the large panels with intricate layers of cross-hatching, a time intensive process which Boetti felt was intrinsic to the very nature of the biro drawings: ‘The drawings in Biro are concentrates of time,’ he explained, ‘they convey to me a physical impression of extended, immense time’ (Boetti, quoted in Alighiero Boetti: Mettere al mondo il mondo, exh. cat., Frankfurt, 1998, p. 59).

Made up of three individual panels, each painstakingly filled with rich, subtly gradated fields of dark black ink, Piccolo, medio, grande presents a shimmering vision of space, the white commas appearing like a mysterious astronomical constellation against a velvety midnight sky. While the laborious process demanded a heightened level of attention from Boetti’s collaborators, to ensure the surface was filled as densely as possible without leaving any gaps or spaces, a number of subtle, textural shifts can be detected throughout. Indeed, each panel is imbued with the distinctive rhythm of its maker, their idiosyncratic approaches to the process resulting in fluctuating fields of colour which appear to undulate in a wave-like motion across the panels. These subtle variations are dependent on a number of different factors, from the quality of the ball-point pen used, to the varying amounts of pressure applied to the surface, the speed and length of each individual’s stroke to their temperament on a given day, and even the gradual loss of pigment that occurred as a pen began to run out of ink. Revelling in the unexpected results proffered by chance, error or the peculiarities of the maker, Boetti embraced the quirks this form of collaboration brought to his vision, as his instructions were interpreted and executed differently by each individual hand.

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