Alighiero Boetti’s Mappa

Alighiero Boetti’s Mappa

S otheby’s is thrilled to present Alighiero Boetti’s Mappa from 1989-1991 in the Contemporary Art Evening Auction in New York this November. Spanning over 18 feet, Mappa is the largest example of the artist’s most significant and critically acclaimed series to ever come auction. Begun in 1971 and pursued until Boetti’s death in 1994, the Mappe series comprise of intricate tapestries of world maps that are colored according to the national flags of each country, forming a symbolic portrait of the passage of time and changing global politics. Mappa is one of only a few examples of the largest group of Boetti’s Mappe, and it is further distinguished in this limited selection by its luminous ivory background. First exhibited in Boetti’s major 2011-2012 retrospective exhibition, Game Plan, which travelled to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Reina Sofia in Madrid and finally to the Tate Modern in London, Boetti’s masterpiece is a testament to the propulsive desire to orchestrate global encounters that sustained the artist’s illustrious career.


The present work installed in the exhibition Alighiero Boetti: Game Plan. 2011-2012, Museum of Modern Art, NY (left); Tate Modern, London (center); and Reina Sofia, Madrid
(right). Photo © The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence. Art © 2022 / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SIAE, Rome

Mappa makes its auction debut from the ‘Fondazione Chiara e Francesco Carraro’ in Italy, which proceeds from the sale will directly support to fund projects such as exhibitions, conferences, publications, and other culturally enriching events. The enduring desire of Francesco Carraro, supported by his wife Chiara, has always been to create a Foundation that would preserve and display his collection according to his own visionary taste and cultural convictions. Over the course of his life, Francesco built an extraordinary collection of art and design masterpieces that together comprise an artistic narrative encompassing the 20th Century. The ‘Fondazione’ has since served the dual purpose of displaying the collection to the public, and supporting scientific research, education, and the promotion of 20th-Century art and culture, hence the permanent display of an important selection of the Foundation’s works at the Galleria di Arte Moderna at Ca’ Pesaro in Venice.


Alighiero Boetti, Mappa, 1989-1991.

Francesco Carraro’s lifelong connoisseurship and celebration of international artistry paralleled Boetti’s ceaseless pursuit of dialogue with other cultures, of which Mappa is an exceptional example. Boetti was deeply inspired by non-Western art and culture, travelling to Africa, South America, East and Central Asia as well as, most significantly, Afghanistan and Pakistan. In 1971, during his second trip to Afghanistan, Boetti conceived of his first large-scale Mappa when he worked with dozens of skilled Afghan women from a local embroidery school to stitch flag designs onto each corresponding country. Aside from the flags, Boetti encouraged the artisans to decide on the color of the seas in each Mappa, a conceptual decision intended to inweave the creative spirit of others into each finished product while allowing the intrusion of chance in their design.

Due to the extreme precision of the task, and the meticulous skill with which each Mappa was executed, it often took years to complete a large-scale example such as the present work. Along the upper and lower borders of Mappa is woven the following text in Italian and English: “Made in Peshawar Pakistan by Afghan people in 1989 and 90 and 91” – forever commemorating the hours, days, weeks and years it took for a group of dedicated craftsmen to create the work.

“Given the familiarity and pervasiveness of the world map, we can easily take the image for granted. Boetti had the foresight to look at that image and see the meaning and power inherent in the way we depict our present world – and the ever-evolving forces, global and political, which alter that depiction over time. In the fifty years that have passed since Boetti first conceived his Mappa series, globalisation has transformed the art world, and his Mappe now serve as poignant historical records, charting countries, territories, and visions of the globe that no longer exist. Over the past five years, only six Mappa works have appeared at auction; the quality and significance of this example stands out as a defining moment.”
Kelsey Leonard, Head of Sotheby’s Contemporary Evening

The Mappe series bear witness to every change to the physical borders and flags of every nation in the world, providing an extraordinary account of geopolitics between those years. Dating from 1989 to 1991, this Mappa marks one of the most transformative periods of world history; beyond its status as a work of art, Mappa also serves as an artifact of history. From the Fall of the Berlin Wall in Germany to the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in South Africa, the world seemed to collectively pivot in the span of those three years, setting an entirely new socio-political course that has shaped the globalized present in which we live today.

Embroidering of Boetti’s Mappa, from the book Boetti by Afghan People: Peshawar, Pakistan, 1990. Image © Randi Malkin Steinberger, courtesy of RMS. Art © 2022 / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SIAE, Rome

Befitting its subject matter, Mappa will tour the world, first making stops for exhibitions in Dubai, Milan, and Paris, before returning to New York, where it will show in pre-sale exhibition and star in Sotheby’s Contemporary Evening Auction on November 16.


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