Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Day Auction


Alighiero Boetti
1940 - 1994
signed on the reverse of the first panel
ballpoint pen on paper laid down on canvas, in four parts
each: 102.2 by 71.8 cm. 40 1/4 by 28 1/4 in.
overall: 102.2 by 287 cm. 40 1/4 by 113 in.
Executed in 1981.
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Le Case d'Arte, Milan
Acquired from the above by the previous owner


Jean-Christophe Ammann, Alighiero Boetti, Catalogo Generale, Tomo terzo 1, Milan 2015, p. 137, no. 1376, illustrated in colour

Catalogue Note

An imposing work from the important Lavorio Biro series, Mano Libera Pensieri Sciolti is a powerful statement by one of the most influential conceptual artists. Encapsulating many of Alighiero Boetti’s signature artistic strategies, including the use of language and non-traditional materials, the present work is an outstanding example of the artist’s inventive practice.

Begun in Rome in 1972 and continued into the late 1980s, the Lavorio Biro works embody the spirit of the Italian Arte Povera movement on both a material and symbolic level. Each panel of the present work is the result of a meticulous and highly laborious process, in which the handdrawn biro creates a cryptic message through the negative space of the alphabet on the left hand, and the seemingly arbitrary arrangement of commas throughout all four panels. Closer inspection reveals that the commas spell out the text Mano Libera Pensieri Sciolti (which translates as ‘Free hand loose thoughts’), when read from left to right and matched up with the corresponding letters of the alphabet.

The use of the biro pen embodies the very essence of Arte Povera, being a quintessentially modern and inexpensive material. Moreover, Boetti’s interest in language itself is equally important, as it underlines the conceptual nature of Arte Povera. Yet despite the very theoretical basis of the movement, the resulting aesthetic is in some ways the opposite of its minimalistic concept. Executed in bright and vibrant colours and with a depth of detail through the irregular application of the biro, the present work is visually striking and in every way the product of intense, manual labour.

The depth of meaning within the work furthers it from being merely a statement of the principles of Arte Povera. Through the use of coded language, the viewer becomes implicit to the work by having to actively decode its message. Highlighting Boetti’s intrigue and obsession with wordplay and language, the text embodies a playfulness and spontaneity that perfectly demonstrate how Boetti’s approach elevates dry conceptualism to a more engaging level.

Contemporary Art Day Auction