Lot 44
  • 44


1,000,000 - 1,500,000 GBP
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  • Alighiero Boetti
  • Ononimo
  • ballpoint pen on card, in 11 parts
  • each: 70 by 100 cm. 27 5/8 by 39 3/8 in.
  • Executed in 1973.


Gian Enzo Sperone, Turin Acquired from the above by the present owner


New York, Sperone Westwater, Alighiero e Boetti: Simmetria Asimmetria, January - March 2002, n.p., illustrated in colour (detail)


Jean-Christophe Ammann, Alighiero Boetti: Catalogo generale, Vol. II, Milan 2012, p. 94, no. 488, illustrated in colour


Colour: The colour in the catalogue illustration is fairly accurate although the overall tonality is slightly lighter with more contrast in the blue undertones in the original. 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

Much of Alighiero Boetti’s output serves as an attempt to occupy a liminal space between polarities. The conceptual twinning that proliferates throughout his work has led to an analysis of his practice as creatively schizophrenic, hovering between the ordine e disordine (order and disorder): concepts used as titles for many of his works. The present work comes from the eponymous Ononimo series, the largest of the Biro works along with I sei sensi. There are five works of this scale in the series, two in red and three, including the present work, in blue, another of which is housed at the Municipal Museum of Art in Toyota, Japan. The series’ title is a play on the Italian words for anonymous and homonymous (anonimo and omonimo), clearly referencing the problems of authorship which so many of Boetti’s works seek to confront. Just as later in his career Boetti would hire Afghan embroiderers and weavers to create his Mappe, in the early 1970s he employed vast teams of art students in Rome to painstakingly execute the constituent lines of his Biro works. Boetti was thus never in contact with the actual fabricators of his work, and they were encouraged to do what they wished to the piece, within the confines of the rules set out by the artist. The concept and fabrication of the artwork thus represent two distinct but contiguous realities. The ordered principles that governed the work’s execution were undermined by the disorder that Boetti permitted to flourish via the whims of the individual. As the artist explained to Bruno Corà: “I have no contact with others, there is only the visualisation of ‘ononymous’ entities. Without names and with the same name, each with his character, but without collaboration: there is their reality and mine. I found a system by which any reality is OK. I do not make choices, and this, too, is a great achievement, to not have to choose” (Alighiero Boetti cited in: Annemarie Sauzeau, ‘Multiplicity, Difference, Repetition: The Maturity of Alighiero e Boetti’ in: Jean-Christophe Ammann Ed. Alighiero Boetti: Catalogo generale, Vol. II, Milan 2012, p. 35). This concept of twinning the process of creation extended to Boetti’s self-presentation. In 1971, Boetti inserted the letter ‘e’ between his first and last names: Alighiero e Boetti, A & B. In the same year he taught himself to write ambidextrously, which culminated in a performance piece where he wrote forwards along a line with his left hand and backwards with his right, with the two pens meeting in the centre. Similarly, in 1968, Boetti manipulated a photograph to create an image of himself and his ‘twin’ holding hands in a park. Franco La Cecla sees all these works as attempts to remove his own authorship, to be the space in between names: “we might say that he decided to be that &, as the place where identity was lost and established anew” (Franco La Cecla cited in: Jean-Christophe Amman, Ed., Alighiero Boetti: Catalogo generale, Vol. II, Milan 2012, p. 35). Duly, the number eleven, with its twinned digits, 1 and 1, constituted another visual play. The division of Ononimo into eleven panels can thus be seen as a form of self-portraiture within Boetti’s constantly self-referential practice.

The present work serves as a testament to the wildly inventive and varied practice of Boetti. The Biro works as a whole operate on two levels, the mechaniaation of the production of the work, and the standardisation of the ‘ononymous’ agent. However, behind the faceless artisans who make the work, stands the artist who claims authorship of the concept. This distancing mechanism, which challenges the meaning of artistry, was hugely pioneering. Where earlier in his career Boetti would court comparisons with Bruce Nauman, who, like Boetti, saw his own personality as an extraneous and objective entity, in terms of his enduring influence, artists such as Martin Kippenberger and Damien Hirst owe a great debt to the Italian master. Just as Kippenberger hired Mr. Werner to execute his Lieber maler, male mir paintings according to his instruction, Hirst also devises concepts that are principally executed by others. In both cases, there is no need for the artist to come into contact with the work. In this sense, Boetti introduced one of the principal concerns at stake within contemporary art production: the liminal space between artisan and author. Combining self-portraiture with questions of identity, and authorship with paradigms of artistic control, Ononimo is a superb example of this ground-breaking dialogue.

This work is registered in the Archivio Alighiero Boetti, Rome, under the number 1805 and is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity.