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A Century of Art: The Gerald Fineberg Collection

Ammazzare il tempo

Ammazzare il tempo
embroidery on canvas, in forty-nine parts
each: 6 5/8 x 7 1/8 in. (16.8 x 18.1 cm.)
overall: 46 3/8 x 49 7/8 in. (117.6 x 126.7 cm.)
Executed in 1979.
Galleria LP 220, Torino
Private collection, Italy
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2003
Connaissance des Arts, Paris, no. 531, September 1996, p. 28 (illustrated).
L. Pythoud, L’œil expo, Paris, no. 482, September-October 1996, n.p. (illustrated).
L’Officiel de la couture et de la mode de Paris, no. 809, October 1996, (illustrated).
J-C. Ammann, Alighiero Boetti, Catalogo generale, Tomo secondo, Milan, 2012, pp. 370 and 426, cat. no. 1187 (illustrated).
Turin, Galleria LP 220, Ammazzare il Tempo, 1981.
Paris, Galerie Krief, Alighiero E Boetti, September-November 1996.

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Lot Essay

"It’s like looking at a starry sky. Someone who does not know the order of the stars will see only confusion, whereas an astronomer will have a very clear vision of things".(A. Boetti, quoted in Alighiero Boetti: Un Pozzo Senza Fine, exh. cat., Ben Brown Fine Arts, London, 2006, p. 11).

An arresting display of color and textual information, Ammazzare Il Tempo (Killing Time) is a masterful example of Alighiero Boetti’s conceptual body of work. Created in forty-nine different sections by artisans specializing in traditional embroidery, this bold composition highlight’s the artist’s lifelong interest in the diametrically opposed forces of order and disorder. The series to which it belongs, the Arrazi, is a convergence of cultures and ideas as poems, mathematical constructions, and words in Farsi and Italian combine around pre-planned frameworks that seek to tame often disparate content. Creating a visual cacophony around a strictly-ordered grid, Boetti questions systemic structures like authorship and time. Noting that they are pure fabrications of human society, he asks for the viewer to step back and experience the more universal forces at play in the world at large.

Rendered on a seven-by-seven grid of four-by-four squares, Ammazzare Il Tempo utilizes repetition and vibrant coloring in tandem to create a visually sumptuous composition. Each smaller set is made up of letters that spell out the title of the work. Running top to bottom and left to right, the sixteen capital letters create their own unit before being repeated with a new color scheme in the next iteration. Not focused on one particular hue, the entire work is a excited mixture of pink, purple, shades of blue, brown, and every other color. Some, like the pairing of rose and navy blue in the penultimate square, present a more uniform face while others are made up of a dozen different tones applied seemingly at random. The duo-chromatic squares offer calm while those that are created with a frame of contrasting colors draw the eye via their promise of order. White letters pop while warm pairings melt into the background. Flitting from point to point, the viewer’s gaze cannot rest long as there is always a new combination to explore.

Important to an understanding of Boetti’s work is recognizing his interest in the opposing forces of order and chaos. These universal ideas make themselves known time and again throughout his oeuvre. “I have done a lot of work on the concept of order and disorder,” the artist has explained. “Someone who doesn’t know them will never see the order that reigns in things. It’s like looking at a starry sky. Someone who does not know the order of the stars will see only confusion, whereas an astronomer will have a very clear vision of things” (A. Boetti, quoted in Alighiero Boetti: Un Pozzo Senza Fine, exh. cat., Ben Brown Fine Arts, London, 2006, p. 11). The Arazzi revolve around an organizational system known only to the artist, and as such often remain impenetrable to a logical reading. By doing so, however, Boetti problematizes the idea of systems that we use to understand the world around us. In particular, Ammazzare Il Tempo deconstructs our notions of text and language with a reconsideration of how information is passed from one person to the next. Noting that the rules of language, mathematics, time, and every other man-made structure are nothing without a common acceptance of their rules, the artist allows one to see the world through a new lens and reassess our existence within nature.

Born in Turin, Italy, Boetti was secretive about his origins, choosing to mythologize his childhood in service of a greater artistic personality. Though it is unclear what training or schooling the artist attended, he had inserted himself into the Turinese scene by 1964 and had his first solo exhibition in 1967 that revolved around ordinary materials and objects. In the late 1960s, Boetti was a leading figure in the Arte Povera movement based in his home city and Rome. Named after an exhibition of the same name in 1967, it also included artists like Giovanni Anselmo, Mario Merz, and Jannis Kounellis. Looking to non-traditional materials, these artists sought poetic beauty within the everyday. Many of the works were ephemeral in nature or used everyday materials, the artists purposefully stepped away from the authorial role of the work. All of these ideas would figure into Boetti’s later practice as he continued to investigate collaborative practices and the intersection of art and craft traditions. Distancing himself from the movement in 1972, the artist moved to Rome to focus on more conceptual projects. Combining his interest in ubiquitous objects and common materials with this new creative tact, he hoped to lay bare things we take for granted in the world. To this effect, the artist noted, “The greatest joy on earth consists in inventing the world the way it is without inventing anything in the process” (A. Boetti, quoted in Alighiero Boetti, exh. cat., Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt Am Main, 1998 p. 297). Boetti hoped to expose the beauty of the everyday and reveal the interconnected nature of our world.

Produced collaboratively with craftswomen first in Kabul, Afghanistan, and then the Peshawar region of Pakistan after the Soviet invasion forced his embroiderers to flee, these embroidered works involved a conceptual framework applied to traditional textile methods. Boetti would send instructions that laid out the basic content and words but left elements like color selection to the individuals. Limited only to the materials that they had on hand, the meticulously crafted Arazzi reflect the choices of each woman who spent time creating the work at Boetti’s request. The artist, talking about his open approach to these works and their creation, revealed, “Actually, my concern is to avoid making choices according to my taste or to invent systems that they will choose on my behalf”’ (A. Boetti, quoted in A. Zevi, “Alighiero e Boetti: Scrivere, Ricamare, Disengare”, Corriere della Sera, January 19, 1992, n. p.). By relinquishing authorial control but creating a set of discrete rules, he was better able to pit order and disorder against each other in the final product.

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