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Alighiero Boetti: gladstone gallery.

In Mi fuma il cervello (Autoritratto) (My Mind is Burning [Self-Portrait]), 1993, a work made the year before his death, Alighiero Boetti, portrays himself in bronze as a lean fellow holding a garden hose aloft. Steam rises as water hits the heated sculpture's head, a clue, perhaps, to the artist's prodigious sense of invention. In becoming a dual personage--a conceit dramatizing the narcissism implicit to artmaking--Boetti styled himself "Alighiero e Boetti," the e a particule signifying high birth (in his case, the aristocracy of his mind). This embellished name, however, was not used for "La Forza del Centro" (The Force of the Center), an exhibition of 125 of his fabric-mounted Arazzi embroideries from the 1980s and '90s, the majority of which had never been viewed in public before.

I admit to having reservations about this particular body of work, which arise, in part, from the minimal guidance as to the meaning of the Italian and Farsi words found in the grids of Arabic and Latin letters. The press release describes "sentences drawn from poetry, wisdoms from around the world, or sayings invented by Boetti himself" that "alternate between deeply thoughtful statements and whimsical musings." Of course, it is true that it is hardly the responsibility of the artist (or the gallery) to make things "easy" for the viewer, to provide a side-by-side translation, however informative such explanations may be.

The gallery press release also asserts that the grids of letters contain "an elaborate internal code that prescribes the order of the sentences on display." No doubt they do, but the code, in defying decryption, makes this body of embroideries seem rather like tablecloths or place mats hung upon the wall, an effect produced, in measure, by their comparatively modest formats. I feel that these particular embroideries, as objects of aesthetic contemplation, are also compromised by their status as craft products, fabricated, as they were, by Afghan artisans working in Peshawar, Pakistan. (Boetti had previously worked with craftspeople in Kabul, Afghanistan, an arrangement that came to an end following the Soviet invasion ot 1979.) Obviously crafts play an immense role in the arts today but when the art is too ostensively based on the vessel or the loom, the time-immemorial art/craft divide grows nettlesome. Many, of course, regard this antithesis as merely dated, a class-indicting concern. Not I.

To be sure, all works of art, even the most modestly embodied, serve as talismans of an artist's larger artistic achievement, one, that in Boetti's case, I value highly. The negative drift is felt less in the large-scale embroideries, as size, in this case, assimilates them into tapestry. The large format leaves room for additional visual invention: Crosses form at the centers of several gridded squares. This motif is most visible when the cross is sewn in black-and-white and played off against multicolored grounds, as was the case in several works exhibited here.

In short, other embroidered works, such as the Mappe, 1971-94, Boetti's world maps, are far more intriguing. In these works, the countries are vouchsafed the colors of the flags they designate--all, that is, except Israel, still unrecognized by the embroidering Muslim states. One should also recall the delight occasioned when, in one such piece, an ocean becomes a fantastic green, the artisan having replaced the blue thread with another, perhaps more charming ad libitum choice. Then there are the Tutu), 1982-94, the "Everythings"--crazy-quilt arrangements that incorporate the multiform silhouettes of the wreckage and rubbish of modern life. These works posit a distinct historical model for Boetti that runs back to Italian Futurism: Gino Severini's The Dance of the Pan-Pan at the "Monico," 1909-11, perfectly demonstrates the link.
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Title Annotation:NEW YORK
Author:Pincus-Witten, Robert
Publication:Artforum International
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Apr 1, 2013
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