Have a look at the map above. In this globalized world, where countries are essentially brands, this map, which uses each country’s respective flag design to delineate its borders, probably doesn’t seem so unusual, save for that large red swath in Asia marked with a hammer and sickle. Created between 1971 and 1972, this “Mappa” is one of the signature works of art created by Alighiero Boetti, the Italian artist whose paintings, kilims, sculptures and mixed media pieces form an exciting exhibition at New York City‘s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).
“Alighiero Boetti: Game Plan,” which runs at the MoMA through October 1, 2012, is the first major exhibition in the United States of the works of Turin-born Boetti, who made art from the early 1960s until his death in 1994. Associated with the Arte Povera (Poor Art) movement in Italy, Boetti found a lot of his inspiration by exploring travel, maps, geography, stamps and postcards.
[Photo above courtesy MoMA]In the 1970s, Boetti traveled extensively, particularly to Afghanistan, where he collaborated with local craftswomen to create embroidered tapestries such as the “Mappa,” above. Without a doubt, Boetti’s Mappa series is his most famous, and these iconic, large-scale kilims are displayed in MoMA’s expansive, second floor space along with other tapestries that play with time, numbers, patterns and colors. Another innovative work on display here is “Tapestry of the Thousand Longest Rivers of the World,” which lists the world’s 1,000 longest rivers from largest to smallest. There is poetry in seeing the names of these rivers side-by-side and in a medium beyond the computer screen.
Boetti’s abstract look at geography inspired other works on display on MoMA’s sixth floor, which is where the majority of “Game Plan” is located. One outstanding series is “Territori Occupati (Occupied Territories),” works from the late 1960s in which Boetti collaborates with his wife Annemarie Sauzeau to create outlines of conflict zones and occupied lands ripped from newspaper headlines. Boetti and Sauzeau outlined conflict maps from daily editions of La Stampa newspaper. Then, they embroidered the zones’ shapes along with the newspaper dates, on cloth, creating “stateless” representations of conflict areas, such as the Basque region of Spain, Northern Ireland, and the West Bank, Gaza, and Sinai.
Perhaps the most whimsical of Boetti’s experiments with travel- and geography-related themes is his “Viaggi Postale,” a project that had the artist send 25 friends and colleagues in the art world on personalized travel itineraries through the mail. According to MoMA:
Because the addressee did not live at the destination or because, in some cases, the address was fabricated, most of the envelopes were returned to Boetti on each leg of their journeys. He photocopied the front and back of the returned envelopes as a record, then put each one inside a larger envelope and sent it off to the next destination; once more, many were returned, to be photocopied and sent out again until the itineraries were complete.
Imaginary journeys, maps and approximately 100 other works constituting “Alighiero Boetti: Game Plan” will be on display at MoMA through October 1. Admission is $25 but Fridays from 4-8 p.m. are free.