Alighiero Boetti: Game Plan
There is no shortage of extraordinary art in Madrid. In a city that boasts unrivaled collections of Francisco Goya and Diego Velázquez, it’s easy for contemporary art to get overlooked. While tourists flock to the Reina Sofia en mass to view Picasso’s magnum opus, Guernica, the museum also presents a contemporary exhibition program that is just as compelling as its permanent collection. On a recent trip to Madrid we were lucky to catch the evocative and complex career retrospective of Italian conceptual artist Alighiero Boetti. Alighiero Boetti: Game Plan includes more than 100 works drawn from all aspects of the artist’s diverse and prolific career that ended prematurely with his death in 1994.
Boetti first emerged on the international art scene as part of Arte Povera – a revolutionary art movement that developed in Italy in late 1960s and challenged the established order – before quickly distancing himself from this group. Game Plan includes a number of pieces from the beginning of the artist’s career that reveal his links to the movement such as Lampada annuale, a wooden box that contains a light bulb that only illuminates once a year for eleven seconds. Lampada annuale reflects the artist’s penchant for humour and chance; the odds of the light going on while you are viewing the piece is practically nil. The exhibition also presents a number of works that manifest the collaborative nature of the artist’s practice including his well-known Mappa series in which he employed the services of embroiderers in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and his ballpoint pen drawings where he invited friends to fill in different sections of each piece. Game Plan traces Boetti’s interest in collaboration as a strategy to challenge the notion of the artist as a singular creator and as a way to imbue his projects with a measure of uncertainty by leaving their fabrication in the hands of others.
As you traverse the seemingly endless gallery spaces that contain this exhibition, it becomes very clear just how intricate, varied and provocative Boetti’s practice really was. For those who are only familiar with his most celebrated pieces – the large-scale embroidered tapestries of the world map and his Aerei series of drawings that depict meticulously rendered airplanes flying through the sky – this exhibition is an eye-opening experience. His mastery of such a broad range of materials, his conceptual rigour, and his investigation of duality, authorial identity, travel and globalism, the relevance of which endure to this day, make this exhibition well worth a visit. The most poignant work in the show is perhaps 16 dicembre 2040 11 luglio 2023 from 1971, a brass diptych that depicts the 100 year anniversary of his birth and the date that he predicted he would die – a day that remains far in the future.