Presenting a cross-section of the year 1985 through a varied and arbitrary selection of twelve magazine covers taken from each month of that year, Copertine (Covers) is one of an extensive group of works derived from the cover-imagery of popular magazines that Alighiero Boetti made regularly from 1983 onwards. Painstakingly executed in pencil these cover-images have been traced onto paper - a laborious and time-consuming action that emphasizes the fact that these timely, and swiftly-produced, up-to the minute images are also ones that have provided, to some extent, a temporal backdrop to the artist’s life. They are in some, perhaps unfathomable way, markers of Boetti’s own existence.
The twelve magazine covers, drawn from each month of the year, 1985, were chosen at random by Boetti’s assistant at this time, Andrea Marescalchi. ‘There were no specific criteria for buying the magazines and most of the time it would be totally random’, he has recalled (Andrea Marescalchi, quoted in Mark Godfrey, Alighiero e Boetti, New Haven, 2011, p. 291) The magazines derived from a typical Italian newspaper stand, and are therefore reflective to some degree of the range of publications, both international and local, that were, in the 1980s, increasingly becoming available. Indeed, it is in this respect, that the Copertine, perhaps derive one of their most important functions. Their random, display of different magazines, reflects the increasing speed, interchange and globalization of the world as reflected in the glossy media of this period.
It is also this rapid, fast-paced and homogenizing tendency of the period that is deliberately off-set and opposed by the manner of these works’ creation. The covers of this Copertine - American Vanity Fair and New York Magazine, France’s Actuel and a wide assortment of popular Italian magazines, have all been rendered in the slow, out-moded, black-and-white, mode of pencil drawing. These modern, glossy, colourful images have all been slowly copied by being traced with an elegant, hand-drawn graphite line. A coming together of opposites - slick, modern manufacture versus time-consuming, and largely pointless, graphic handicraft - the process of these work’ creation is perhaps also a mirror of their meaning. For, in an enigmatic statement written to accompany the first of these Copertine in 1983, Boetti wrote: ‘In that month, there were millions of images. Now perhaps, a few hundred. Then, all that will remain is this faded copy of a once brightly coloured time.’ (Alighiero Boetti quoted in Alighiero Boetti: Insicuro Noncurante, exh. cat, Nouveau Musée de Villeurbanne, 1986, p. 76)
Boetti’s point here, is that the nature, meaning and significance of these images, like their number, constantly changes with the passage of time. Perhaps also that, while their number, variety and colour fades with time, their significance as a memory of the period from whence they came, only grows in importance. It is, after all, through the long process of copying these works in a medium wholly contrary to the manner in which they were made that, he suggests, these images ultimately attain their longevity.
The origin of Boetti’s Copertine also appears to derive from Boetti’s preoccupation with time as the true author of his work. The series appears to have grown out of a collaboration that Boetti had with the daily Roman newspaper Il Manifesto for which, everyday for a year, Boetti executed a drawing as part of a long-held aim of creating a serial work for the public at large. This idea and even the pencil-tracing technique that so distinguishes the Copertine had, like much of Boetti’s later work, originated in the artist’s first explorations into graphic elaboration in the late 1960s. Indeed, Boetti often stated that the subsequent development of his entire oeuvre had begun with his very first traced drawings of graph-paper made in a deliberate break from the aesthetics of art povera in 1967 and which he entitled, Cimento dell’armonia e dell’invenzione (Contest between Harmony and Invention). These were works that functioned between autonomous copying/tracing and secret invention and were, he said, ‘always about time, which is the only thing that is really magical, this incredible elasticity. Everything has its own time’, Boetti said of these works. (Alighiero Boetti, ‘Interview with Achille Bonita Oliva’, Milan 1973, in Alighiero Boetti exh. cat., Vienna 1997, p. 209)
Similarly, the pseudo-abstract, amoeba-like maps of Boetti’s 1971 work Dodici forme dal giugno 1967 which traced the covers of newspapers over four years, are also a distant ancestor of the Copertine, as is his diptych, Torino lunedì 16 dicembre 1940-Kabul lunedì 9 aprile 1973, where the front page of La Stampa from Boetti’s birthday and the front page of the Kabul Times in 1973 effectively bookended the artist’s life ‘so far’. Another related work from the 1970s was Collo rotto baccia lunghe which mingled traces of magazine covers, Boetti’s own works and photographs of the artist. In contrast, as can be seen in the present work, Boetti’s Copertine remain deliberately opaque and inscrutable. They provide only the most rudimentary documentary evidence of Boetti’s existence throughout the year 1985. The fascination and appeal of its imagery is left open to change, develop and perhaps grow with the passage of time.
‘Do you know why dates are important? Because…if you write “1970” for example on a wall, it looks like nothing much, nothing at all, but in thirty years’ time…With every day that goes by, this date becomes more beautiful. It’s time that works, it’s all that works.’ (Alighiero Boetti, quoted in Annemarie Sauzeau Boetti, ‘The Adventurous Life of Alighiero Boetti”, in Achille Bonita Oliva (ed.) Alighiero & Boetti: Bringing the World into Art, 1993-1962, MADRE, Naples, 2009)