Lot 31
  • 31

Alighiero Boetti

450,000 - 550,000 GBP
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  • Alighiero Boetti
  • Alternando da uno a cento e viceversa
  • signed and dated 1978 a Kabul on the overturn
  • embroidery on fabric
  • 125 by 125 cm. 49 1/4 by 49 1/4 in.
  • Executed in 1977-78.


Acquired from the artist by the present owner in 1982


Milan, Galleria Artra, Labirinto, March – April 1979

Belluno, Palazzo Crepadona & Cortina d’Ampezzo, Galleria Civica, Arte Povera e dintorni, August – September 1997, p. 33, illustrated

Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia; London, Tate Modern; New York, Museum of Modern Art, Alighiero Boetti: Game Plan, October 2011 – October 2012, p. 251, illustrated in colour


Jean-Christophe Ammann, Alighiero Boetti, Catalogo Generale, Vol. II, Milan 2012, p. 277, no. 928, illustrated


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate. Condition: Please refer to the department for a professional condition report.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Alternando da uno a cento e viceversa (Alternating from One to One Hundred and Vice Versa) is a compelling work that is charged with conceptual energy. Stemming from a rare series within Alighiero Boetti’s fêted oeuvre, it should be understood as a pure and bold expression of the polarity between order and disorder, which he believed characterised the entire universe, as well as an engaging reflection upon notions of gaming and play. It is entirely in keeping with the best of this artist’s facture in the clarity of its conceptual expression and the strength of its poetic voice.

Ordine e disordine – order and disorder – were the central tenets of Boetti’s praxis. He believed that the tension between human order and natural chaos characterised humanity’s attempts to formulate their own existence; that man was incapable of comprehending the unfathomable power of the universe without imposing arbitrary schemes and systems upon it. As such, the present work can be understood as a series of pictorial patterns, each of which elucidate the immutable tension between order and disorder. The work consists of one hundred squares, each of which is subdivided by a grid into a hundred smaller squares. Boetti uses them to count, using specific numbers of black squares against white and white squares against black, from one to one hundred and back again, reading from one white square in the upper left of the composition, all the way back to zero – an entirely black square – in the lower right hand corner. However, while the system is legible and ordered in the upper and lower sections of the panel, it devolves into a disordered blur in the middle. Moreover, even the way in which Boetti created the tapestry was characterised by an innate awareness of ordine e disordine: although he conceived the scheme for the work in his studio in Rome, it was executed by a team of weavers in Afghanistan and whilst he defined the specific number of squares in each grid that should be black and white, he left the specific arrangement of them up to the weavers. In this way, he spiked his ordered schema of mathematical accuracy with the chaos of disorder, and heightened the tension between these two forces which he believed to be so important.

This work also denotes Boetti’s preoccupation with gaming, gambling, and play. Aesthetically, it reminds us not only of a chess or chequers board, but also of the faces of individual dice, or dominos, presented in jumbled combination. To Boetti, philosophical thought was humankind’s greatest accomplishment and games were the arena in which thought was exercised most fully. Boetti loved games for their futility; they focus the mind with no underlying motive or wider significance; they are a folly, a concetto of momentary importance. Indeed, games are ultimately little more than a means of passing time – of tracking and controlling the individual moments on our inevitable path towards mortality. In the artist’s own words: “Time is something really fundamental; it underlies everything… It is the only thing that is really magical… Everything has its own time!” (Alighiero Boetti in conversation with Achille Bonito Oliva in: Exh. Cat., Vienna, Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, 1973, p. 208). In this context, it is perhaps significant that, in the present work, although we begin counting from one in the upper left hand corner, we finish on zero in the lower right: having grown to tumultuous heights of pixelated confusion in the centre of the composition, everything is reduced to nothing.  

The emphases of this work are best summed up by Boetti himself: “I have done a lot of work on the concept of order and disorder: disordering order or putting order into certain kinds of disorder, or again presenting a visual disorder that was actually the representation of a mental order. It’s just a question of knowing the rules of the game. Someone who doesn’t know them will never see the order that reigns in things. It’s like looking at a starry sky. Someone who does not know the order of the stars will see only confusion, whereas an astronomer will have a very clear vision of things” (Alighiero Boetti cited in: Annemari Sauzeau, Alighiero e Boetti: Shaman/Showman, Cologne 2003, pp. 205-6). It is easy to imagine the present work as Boetti’s starry sky – black punctuated by white – only comprehensible by those who know the rules to the game and can contend with the artist’s blessed principles of order and disorder.