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Mettere al mondo il mondo (Bringing the world into the world)

Mettere al mondo il mondo (Bringing the world into the world)
ballpoint pen on paper laid down on canvas, in five parts
each: 39 ¼ x 27 5⁄8in. (99.6 x 70.3cm.)
overall: 39 ¼ x 138 3⁄8in. (99.6 x 351.5cm.)
Executed circa 1974
Galleria Alessandra Bonomo, Rome.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2000.
La Pensée Tangible. Huit parcours exemplaires en France et en Italie / Il Pensiero Tangibile. Otto percorsi esemplari in Francia e in Italia, exh. cat., Bologna, Galleria d’Arte Moderna di Bologna, 1992, no. 2 (illustrated, p. 48; dated '1972').
A. Pohlen and S. Widner (eds.), Alighiero e Boetti. 1965-1992. Synchronizität als ein Prinzip akausaler Zusammenhänge, exh. cat., Bonn, Bonner Kunstverein, 1992 (illustrated in colour, pp. 54-55; dated '1972').
J-C. Ammann, Alighiero Boetti catalogo generale, vol. II, Milan 2012, p. 411, no. 582 (illustrated in colour, p. 140).
Further Details
This work is registered in the Archivio Alighiero Boetti, Rome, under no. 289.

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Claudia Schürch
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Lot Essay

Spanning three and a half metres in width, Mettere al mondo il mondo (Bringing the World into the World) is a monumental work from Alighiero Boetti’s revolutionary early series of ballpoint pen compositions. Executed circa 1974, it belongs to the suite of predominantly blue works bearing this title that the artist began in 1972, and is the only example composed of five panels. The phrase ‘mettere al mondo il mondo’ would become central to Boetti’s thinking, capturing his belief that turning everyday objects and systems into art could reveal their true nature. His ballpoint pen works stood among the most vivid assertions of this idea. The present work is composed of a series of white commas, set against a monochrome biro backdrop. Every comma matches up to a letter of the alphabet, which—when read from left to right—spells out the work’s title. Each panel is dedicated to a single word. The results, like constellations in the night sky, are at once mysterious and self-evident: a riddle and a solution wrapped into a bewitching, elegant expression.

Contemporaneous with his first tapestries, or Arazzi, Boetti’s biro works flourished in the early 1970s, following his first trip to Afghanistan. It was there, he recalls, that the phrase ‘mettere al mondo il mondo’ first entered his imagination. While travelling across the deserted landscape to a village outside Kabul, he encountered ‘a Kuci caravan, Afghan nomads with horses, asses and many camels’. It struck him that, just a few hours earlier, he had been sitting ‘in a house in Turin’. Now he was in a foreign land, observing a scene that could have taken place ‘in the year 1000’. ‘At that moment the sentence comes into my head “Bringing the world into the world”’, he recalls. ‘I look for a leaf of paper, a very small one, and write on it “Mettere al mondo il mondo”. A kind of autogenesis, an enduring birth’ (A. Boetti, quoted in Alighiero Boetti: Mettere al mondo il mondo, Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt am Main 1998, pp. 53-55).

The realisation that time and place were neither fixed nor linear concepts would energise Boetti’s practice. His works played freely with geographical and temporal boundaries: from the Mappe and Arazzi, forged in collaboration with artisanal weavers in Afghanistan, to his frequent invocation of dates and calendars. The curator Mark Godfrey explains that ‘mettere al mondo il mondo’ might be more accurately translated as ‘giving birth to the world’, or rather ‘putting the world back into the world’. ‘Instead of inventing images, constructing forms, or having things fabricated’, he writes, ‘Boetti took the stuff of the world, rearranged it, and put it back into the world as art. He used stamps, maps, the names and length of rivers, the colours of biro pens’ (M. Godfrey, press statement for Mettere al mondo il mondo, Thomas Dane Gallery, Naples 2022). Two years before the present work, Boetti issued his seminal proclamation: ‘The greatest joy in the world consists in inventing the world the way it is without inventing anything in the process’ (A. Boetti, ‘Interview with Mirella Bandini’, 1972, reproduced in Zero to Infinity: Arte Povera 1962-1972, exh. cat. Tate, London 2001, p. 190).

Boetti would invoke ‘mettere al mondo il mondo’ time and again across his ballpoint pen works: examples are held in the Museé d’art contemporain de Rochechouart and the Glenstone Foundation, Maryland. Collectively, these works shine light upon the phrase’s meaning. On one hand, they dispense with all sense of authorship. The colour is pre-set by the biro itself, and Boetti—as in his Arazzi—instructed other people to fill in the surface. The alphabetic strip, meanwhile, determines the reading of the work. It is a product of everyday objects, acts and systems. At the same time, however, it illuminates those things in new and unexpected ways. The humble biro, without any intervention from the artist, becomes almost painterly, with different patterns of speed, gesture and coverage creating exquisite and unpredictable tonal variation across the surface of the work. The dazzling white commas, seen in isolation from the letters on the left, exude a sense of transcendental wonder and mystery, as if straining to communicate from the deep blue abyss. Meaning begins to unravel even as it is prescribed. Through the most basic linguistic and artistic means, Boetti reveals the world anew, revelling in its hidden beauty, complexity and contradiction.

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