Lot 16
  • 16

Alighiero Boetti

150,000 - 200,000 GBP
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  • Alighiero Boetti
  • Untitled (Sedici lettere alla ricerca della quadratura del dieci) 
  • signed on the 16th sheet
  • stamps, pencil and ink on paper, in 16 parts
  • each: 28 by 22 cm. 11 by 8 5/8 in.
  • overall: 112 by 88 cm. 44 1/8 by 34 5/8 in.
  • Executed circa 1974. The 16 sheets were part of a Lavoro postale.


Collection Ugo Mulas, Milan (acquired directly from the artist in the 1970s)

Catalogue Note

“The term mathematics comes from the Greek mathema, which means an inclination to learn: Knowledge and science. (...) My father loved mathematics and as a result I loved mathematics while at school. With my father this subject was wholly entertaining as it was free of limits and obligations.

Each calculus turned into a game. We used to play with mathematics, with it, through it, starting from it. A number can be summed up, detracted, multiplied and divided. We used to dissect it until it would return a gift to us, a result turned magic into evidence. (...)

Sometimes we went so far that it became impossible to find out the origin of the calculation and the reason for choosing the number. Calculating to infinity, without any reason, goal nor end. They were unpredictable magical and inevitable. (…) What are the numbers that follow each other and that add up to equal 90 as a result? After days spent doing calculus, the final result would be: 21+22+21+24=90. Magic!

How can we reach 100 using only six identical numbers? 99+(99:99)=100!

(…) “Every single day we are in touch with mathematics without knowing it! Numbers are everywhere, always, and they are concrete. Man has 1 head, 2 hands, 4 limbs, 20 fingers and 206 bones! In order to make an omelette 2 eggs per person are needed: If we are 4 I must multiply.” That is what he would tell me.

(…) The number 1000 aroused his curiosity and tortured him for many years. He told me that he had started getting interested in it and investigated it towards the end of the sixties with the help of some old notes, which he had taken that he showed me.

1 was unique. A perfect minimal square. A special case.

10 could not be “square”, a simple unity that ended the game (3x3+1).

100 was perfect. A square of 10 by 10.

1000 was intolerable as the 10th. There were 39 units left that would allow the making of an impeccable square.

10,000 was perfect.

100,000 was a problem, as was 10 and 1000.

1,000,000 was perfect.

This number became the foundation of some of my works.

In order to explore and study this number in depth, he had made a stamp from it: a square made of 31 small squares by 31 small squares that equalled 961 small squares. This was made in order to gain time, and pursue his obsession whole heartedly.

Multiplying this to infinity and revealing all the possibilities offered by the number 1000. Thus he stamped a great quantity of sheets of paper so he would examine the multiple possibilities of how the missing 39 small squares could be summed up in order to reach 1000.” (Alighiero Boetti cited in: Agata Boetti, Il gioco dell’arte con mio padre, Alighiero, Milano 2016, pp. 113-114)