‘I think I make works that anyone could do. But then strangely no one does […] And that’s what I like most. Maybe the difference is that no one pays attention to these things.’ These are the words of the famous Italian post war Artist Alighiero Boetti (1940 – 1994). He is one of the best known of a group of Italian post war artists who have in the last decade become the most discussed generation of the art world. Initially championed in the UK by the cluster of Italian galleries that have taken over swathes of Dover Street and the surrounding roads in Mayfair, replacing the Italian old master dealerships, they are quickly becoming the most collected collective of the 20th century. The names of these Post War Italian artists have become as synonymous as their concurrent British counterparts such as Bridget Riley and David Hockney among the British art-vocabulary. But what sets these Italian artists apart from their British counterparts? It is their pure concept of abstraction and concept. British artists could melt colour and form certainly, but the ability to move beyond that and in to another realm of visual and conceptual space – it was the Italians. Fontana’s slits, Bonalumi’s bumps – they redefined conceptual art in the 50s, 60s and 70s.

Alighiero Boetti, Tutto, 1992-94, embroidery on canvas, 255 x 595 cm. Courtesy Tornabuoni Art.

As markets, scholarship and historical perspective all advance in the field of Post War Italian art, it is becoming more and more apparent that Alighiero Boetti was one of the most forward thinking of this group, and his position among his contemporaies is being reevaluated. His works, which range from alphabet collages to cartography volumes, are riotous, educated and intricate – and always with a message. He preaches that the differences between everyone are minuscule and really, we are all just one collective – something that seems as pertinent as ever when looking at the current socio-economic climate. He has become widely known amongst London exhibitions and fair booths for his luminous alphabet collage works, some of which were hand sewn by Afghan refugees he met while running a hotel in Kabul in 70’s.  In another seminal work completed with the assistance of his wife, Boetti documented the world’s 1,000 longest rivers – testament to his ingenious multidisciplinary approach that paid no attention to the rules. Boetti’s work knew no boundaries in both form and function, and he single-handedly changed the course of European modern art in ways we are only just now fully understanding.

Alighiero Boetti, Mettere al Mondo il Mondo, 1975, ballpoint pen on paper mounted on canvas, 160 x 347. Courtesy Tornabuoni Art.

Tornabuoni Gallery in Paris is currently hosting the largest ever retrospective of the artist in a show that has been undertaken with the collaboration of the artist’s daughter Agata Boetti who runs his archive and has written a biography of her father which is currently being translated in to English. Tornabouni are also marking this as the inaugural show in their new Parisian space – a restored hotel in  the hip district of Marais. With vast ceilings, an orangery and courtyards and a café and bookshop, it is set to become Paris’s most celebrated art destination for the well heeled and well versed when it comes to Post War and Contemporary Italian Art.

The new show encompasses Boetti’s entire career illustrating the breadth of his importance and influence and includes important works from his early ink drawings, to pieces related to the Arte Povera movement. His Bollini (stickers), Lavori Postali (postal works), Aerei (airplanes) and Biro (ballpoint pen) series, as well as important works on paper and several of the artist’s iconic embroideries all feature throughout this tightly knit retrospective. Thee monumental six metre long works; Anno 1984 (1984), Mappa (1989-94) and Tutto (1992- 94) are exhibited together for the first time and each marks a crucial point in Boetti’s career when he was exploring themes and techniques of communication, transmission, geography, time and colour.

Alighiero Boetti, Muro, 1972-93, mixed media, varied dimensions, exhibition view at Tornabuoni London 2016. Courtesy Tornabuoni Art.

The show in Paris is the second part of a two year Boetti project supported by Tornabuoni that began with a small show in their London space which finished in January 2017. It will climax with a major museum show at the Cini Foundation which opens at the same time as this year’s Venice Biennale in May. Curated by the Boetti scholar Luca Massimo Barbera and the infamous art historian and curator Hans Ulrich Obrist (who was a personal friend of the artist), the show Minimo/Massimo will examine every single series of Boetti’s work spanning his entire career and is set to include the largest and smallest example from each. Set to be a highlight of this year’s Biennial, the show will have many important pieces from great museum and private collections around the world. Boetti fever is set to reach fever pitch in 2017.

By Harry Seymour

Alighiero Boetti at Tornabuoni Paris, Passage de Retz, 9 Rue Charlot, 75003, Paris, France. 3 February – 8 April 2017.