This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity from the Archivio Alighiero Boetti, Rome, dated 11 April 2005 and numbered 152.
Executed in 1968, Cubo is an intriguing sculpture that reveals the extent of Boetti's participation in the Arte Povera movement, as well as an exciting insight into his early and formative years. That same year, Milan's De Neuberg Gallery played host to Boetti's famous Shaman/Showman exhibition. The dichotomy held in the title was to recur throughout Boetti's work for the rest of his career, and clearly manifested itself in the intriguing assembly of artworks and objects that made up this, his fourth one-man show, one of his most influential and one that truly placed him on the map of the Italian art scene.
At this point in 1968, a key watershed year of revolution and radicalism in Europe, the term Arte Povera was brand new, having been coined only months earlier for a group exhibition in which Boetti partook. The exhibition at the De Neuberg Gallery perfectly encapsulates the common ground that led to Boetti's brief involvement with Arte Povera. There, stones littered the floor, asbestos stacks were piled at the rear, and also featuring was at least one plexi-glass box filled with industrial materials. At the same time, this exhibition perfectly introduced the Shaman/Showman dichotomy, with Boetti's consummate skills as a showman being revealed in the almost theatrical presentation of these objects, many of them readymades, while their transformation from industrial scrap to art objects hinted at his shamanism.
Created as part of the abovementioned group of cubes in 1968, Cubo is a regular plexiglass container that has been painstakingly filled with pipes, chipboard, glass and wires amongst other objects. These have been arrayed with precision and regularity into a strikingly aesthetic abstract form, best exemplified from the top view, which unveils the incredible, dense texture of the combined materials. This unique object, pre-dating the artist's interest in multiples, has been crafted with an eye towards the end result as well as a bounding enthusiasm for the constituent objects themselves. Referring to the creation of one of the other pieces exhibited in his 1968 show, Boetti recalled his intense glee on discovering the beauty of industrial and pre-fabricated objects:
'When I produced Catasta ('Stack') using molded pipes, I had to go to the yard of a construction company. And when I saw all the great things there I could have gone crazy. They had everything you could dream of: fireclay bricks that are wonderfully beautiful, glass wool, polyester, everything... You see, I felt such amazing enthusiasm on seeing all these materials' (Alighiero Boetti, quoted in exh. cat., Alighiero Boetti: Mettere al mondo il mondo, Frankfurt, 1998, p. 33).
It is this enthusiasm that is concentrated in Cubo. There, each material becomes part of an artwork that has in its own right an imposing and concrete physical presence.
The overlap between Boetti and the Arte Povera movement at this time was largely related to their attitudes to the material world. Like many of his fellow artists who had been grouped under the same banner, Boetti was intrigued by the possibilities afforded by the humblest and, crucially, the most modern materials. Cubo is a celebration of the modern world, and of the wonders of technology. There is an intense and beguiling freedom at play in the dense yet glittering packing of wires, pipes and board into this plexiglass container. As Boetti himself remarked, '1968 marked a new period, a 'happy age': Columni, Legnetti, and plexi-glass filled in various ways' (Alighiero Boetti, quoted in Ibid., p. 35).
At the same time, as was only fitting in an age of simmering revolt and rebellion such as the early months of 1968, Cubo has an anarchic twist. On the one hand its rigid geometry and the rich patterning resulting from the elaborate and intricate arrangement of the various materials imply containment and therefore some level of control; on the other, the materials of the corporate, industrial world have been neutered, removed from the context of employment and construction and re-deployed as art. Cubo celebrates these materials, but only after removing them from the capitalist food-chain, allowing them to flourish outwith the control of factory-owning plutocrats.
In Boetti's work, and especially during this early conceptual period of his career, the transformation of these modern stuffs was as shamanic as it was political. Wielding the almost magical power of the artist, Boetti took these industrial odds and ends, essentially the scrap of the modern era, and transmuted them, as though miraculously, into Art with a capital A. A change of context and presentation had wrought this magical conversion.
There is a hint of Duchamp in this Arte Povera transformation, but also evident now is Boetti's interest in the various ways in which to chart, catalogue, number and divide the world. As well as Boetti the showman with his finger on the pulse, it is Boetti the shaman who has created Cubo, a fascinating repository of the materials of the day, preserved in the form of artefact, arranged neatly and slowly by the artist according to an interior logic. This logic has the hint of an obsolete alphabet: the placing of the materials in the Cubo appears to follow a pattern with some significance that eludes us. There is magic in the Cubo: the hidden codes in the placement of materials are as codified as a pentagram or a stone circle. As Boetti stated, 'I have worked much with the concept of order/disorder: by transforming order into disorder or certain disorder into order or by presenting apparent disorder which was, in fact, the depiction of intellectual order. The thing is to know the rules of the game: He or she who does not know them will never recognise the order prevailing in things, just as someone who does not know the orders of the stars will always only see confusion, while an astronomer has a very clear view of things' (Alighiero Boetti, quoted in Ibid., p. 133). Cubo's sculptural solidity, its megalithic insistence as a physical object and monument, demands that the viewer recognise and respect this interior order just as much as the more mundane order that would see these materials hidden away in the bowels of the faceless, wan buildings and machines of our age.