Alighiero Boetti at the Fowler Museum at UCLA

Pick of the Week for July 25th, 2012

Granted, to write a rave review of a show closing in four days is regretable. But when the art work on display and the curatorial excellence is so remarkable, it would be more of a crime not to sing its praises. The exhibition in question is the remarkable retrospective of Alighiero Boetti titled Order and Disorder at the Fowler Museum. Boetti was an artist of the highest magnitude. His intellectual approach to image making was both conceptual and deeply sincere, a rare combination. We in Los Angeles owe a debt of gratitude to co-curators Alma Ruiz and Christopher G. Bennett and the Fowler Museum for bringing the work here, installed thoughtfully and educationally.

Alighiero Boetti
Incontri e Scontri, 1988 (Loose translation: Encounters and Clashes)
Embroidery on fabric 18.5 x 17 cm Private Collection Photograph by Don Cole, Fowler Museum at UCLA, 2011 © Alighiero Boetti Estate by Artists Rights Society (ARS) and Società Italiana di Autori ed Editori (SIAE) 2011

Alighiero Boetti (1940-1994) rose to aesthetic prominence out of the Arte Povera movement coined and propagated in Italy of the the mid to late 1960’s. The “everything can be art” radicalism of that period seems almost quaint in the slap dash aesthetics to be witnessed in our current MFA infested landscape of non-exceptionalism. Boetti early on began a collaboration with Afghan women who would embroider his texts, altered maps and puzzle-like patterns onto cloth and linen. The effect immediately became both highly contemporary and infused with the folksy hand hewn execution of old world tradition. It also became a signature style, immediately recognizable and thus iconic.

Alighiero Boetti Jaguri Afghanistan, 1988
Embroidery on fabric 111 x 111 cm Private Collection, Los Angeles Photograph courtsey Hauser and Wirth, Geneva © Alighiero Boetti Estate by Artists Rights Society (ARS) and Società Italiana di Autori ed Editori (SIAE) 2011

The text pieces, in a myriad of languages, draw you in with their mathematically derived structure. They have content and pattern. They ache for a reading, both literal and metaphorical.

Alighiero Boetti Mappa, 1990
Embroidery on fabric 118.1 x 229.3 cm Private Collection, Rome Photograph by David Regen, New York © Alighiero Boetti Estate by Artists Rights Society (ARS) and Società Italiana di Autori ed Editori (SIAE) 2011 Courtesy Fondazione Alighiero e Boetti, Rome

The map pieces, replacing the physical shape the boundaries of nations have with their corresponding flags, embrace a world ethnographic paradigm. Much like Jasper Johns’ flag, the shape, color and pattern is predetermined but the execution lends endless variation. And over time, national identities, boundaries and flags changed thereby lending an air of historical trajectory.

Alighiero Boetti Tutto, 1988
Embroidery on fabric 100 x 70 cm Collezione Alessandra Bonomo Photograph courtesy Bonomo Gallery, Rome © Alighiero Boetti Estate by Artists Rights Society (ARS) and Società Italiana di Autori ed Editori (SIAE) 2011

Lastly, and perhaps most rapturously, Boetti’s Tutto (Everything) pieces are funny and poignant. They initially read as allover/endless patternation. Then one’s eye begins to identify figures and objects all intricately interlocked like puzzle pieces. These single color silhouettes dance a syncopated rhythm of optimistic chaos.

The exhibition pairs a generous sampling of Boetti’s oeuvre with historical examples of embroidery of the Afghan artisans. Documentary photographs supplement the display lending an extra layer of narrative that makes everything more compelling. In the hands of less accomplished curators the inclusion of historical context and photographs could place a pall of ivory tower dogma on the proceedings but I’m pleased to say that no such stuffiness is to be witnessed here.

I beseech you, for all that is holy, get your aesthetically malnourished buns to the UCLA campus immediately and see this show before it closes this Sunday July 29th, 2012.

-Mario M. Muller, Los Angeles, July 24th, 2012


also by Mario M. Muller

3 responses to “Alighiero Boetti at the Fowler Museum at UCLA”

  1. I was lucky to discover this beautiful exhibit by accident while visiting the Fowler museum for a Ikebana workshop. Loved the colors, the imagery, the beautiful maps of the world created by hand embroidery by Afghan women who used the canvas to also make statements in Pushto on the the political and social conditions in Afghanistan. Amazing work.

  2. It would be wonderful to have a two person exhibition featuring Alighiiero Boetti juxtaposed with the paintings of Houston’s Perry House
    (currently at the Car Car Museum).

    A fine review!

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