For my gallery visit exercise I chose
MACRO – Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Roma, Via Nizza 138, Rome
which is currently hosting the exhibition Dall’oggi al domani. 24 ore nell’arte contemporanea (English: From Today to Tomorrow. 24 hours in contemporary art) running from 30 April to 2 October 2016.
The exhibition is named after a work on show by Alighiero Boetti, Dall’oggi al domani (From Today to Tomorrow), 1988, and collects 70 pieces by Italian and international artists around the theme of time.
It is for me a very good opportunity to explore the work of one very influential Italian contemporary artist, Alighiero Boetti, with several pieces on show at Macro. And I am concentrating particularly on the tapestry that gave its name to the exhibition.
Alighiero Boetti (Turin 1940 – Rome 1994)
Dall’oggi al domani (English: From Today to Tomorrow), 1988
Embroidery on canvas, cm 16,5 x 18
Alighiero Boetti has been a prominent Italian conceptual artist. In the Sixties he was a member of the art movement Arte Povera which means literally ‘poor art’, an art made with an heterogeneous range of unconventional processes and non traditional ‘everyday’ materials (1). Traditional embroidery was certainly one of his favourite media and he used it for many conceptual pieces, after discovering it during his travels in Afghanistan.
The work at MACRO is to be understood within this context. As he often did, he only conceived the original idea but this tapestry was physically executed by Afghan women embroiderers. As he said: ‘ … that this work is done by me, by you, by Picasso or by Ingres, it does not matter.’ (2). Also the choice of colours and other design decisions were often left to the makers and so many of his works were intentionally created like collaborative art pieces, sometimes of huge dimensions as his Maps which involved hundreds of workers in the making.
The grid of letters on show is one of many other similar works he commissioned, and all of them include short sentences in Italian or word plays he carefully selected. Here is a choice of these tapestries taken from Archivio Alighiero Boetti.
Dall’oggi al domani has been probably chosen for the exhibition running at MACRO because its title is connected to time. The letters forming the words are scattered through the grid in what seems a random order creating an anagram, suggesting perhaps the impermanence of time or the casual flow of events. The grid arrangement seems to imply a secret order in things, the colour combination is pleasing and decorative and it makes me think of traditional costumes and of an ancient civilization where time perhaps does not matter. The theme of place and culture is relevant too, obliquely addressed through the patient manual work of Afghan women. So I believe that this piece says something both on time and place.
I think that when looking at a conceptual art work like Dall’oggi al domani it is important to gather some information, otherwise it might seem beautifully shallow and seemingly easy, like a work of good craft. Context seems paramount here.
On the Tate website I have listened to an interesting video of artist Francesco Clemente who speaks about his friend Boetti and gives some hints that can be helpful to gain a better understanding of his work.
Fig. 3 Still frame
Another important artist now on show at MACRO is Roman Opalka, born in France from Polish parents, who throughout his life was involved with recording the progression of time and his own aging.
Roman Opalka (Abbeville-Saint-Lucien 1931 – Rome 2011)
On his website Opalka himself describes very clearly his rigorous and mathematical method of work (3), which is conceptual in its essence:
The fundamental basis of my work, to which I have dedicated my life, manifests itself in a process of recording a progression that both documents time and also defines it. It began on a single date in 1965, the one on which I undertook my first “Detail”.
Each “Detail” is a part of a greater idea conceived on that date. My work records the progression to infinity, through the first and the last number painted on the canvas.
I inscribe the progression of numbers beginning with one, proceeding to infinity, on canvases of the same size, 77.17 x 53.15 in (196 x 135 cm), in white by hand with a paintbrush. Since 1972 I have been making each canvas’ background about 1% whiter each time. Thus the moment will arrive when I will paint white on white. Since 2008, I have painted in white on a white background, which I call “blanc mérité” (white well earned).
After each work session in my studio, I take a photograph of my face in front of the “Detail” that I have been working on. Each “Detail” is accompanied by a tape recording of my voice saying the numbers out loud as I write them.
MACRO exhibits a good collection of his works, both the canvases and the portraits. In the museum I took a quick photo of the seven self portraits on show.
Series of seven Détails (English: Details), various dates 1968 onwards
Unique photographic prints, different sizes.
These seven photographic self portraits are only a very small sample of the thousands the artist took in around 40 years of work, from 1968 till his death in 2011, one each at the end of each day of painting, every one of them in black and white.
As I read this information at the exhibition I almost felt sick. I stared at this inscrutable face, who remained as expressionless as humanly possible, whereas his features inevitably aged and changed through the years, his hair progressively thinning and whitening from portrait to portrait. Nothing personal emerges, no emotion is shown, only the passing of time on this face, but it could have been anybody’s face.
Together these images look to me as an immense mind-boggling conceptual ‘memento mori’ mercilessly reiterated for a whole life, a sort of terrible self effacement, as if life had been lived by the artist only to be observed in its passing. I thought about Sam Taylor-Wood’s Still Life and A Little Death: in those films there was a violent, frightening decay we could see in motion, in these photos everything from the background to the shirt remains unchanged and in all this stillness the only movement is that of time.
Place here seems absent, as if irrelevant, as if only time mattered and all the rest, places, people, their lives were beside the point.
List of illustrations
Figure 1 Boetti, Alighiero, Dall’oggi al domani (English: From today to tomorrow) ( 1988) [embroidery on canvas] cm 16,5 x 18 Location MACRO Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Roma Image at: http://www.galleriaincontro.it/it/opere/dall-oggi-al-domani-81 (Accessed 26/09/16)
Figure 2 At: http://www.archivioalighieroboetti.it/ (Accessed 26/09/16)
At: http://www.tate.org.uk/learn/online-resources/glossary/a/arte-povera (Accessed 26/09/16)
Figure 4 Taken at the MACRO, 3/09/16
(1) http://www.tate.org.uk/learn/online-resources/glossary/a/arte-povera (Accessed 26/09/16)
(2) Maurizio Fagiolo dell’Arco, “In quell’artista c’è uno sciamano”, from an interview with Boetti published in Il Messaggero, Rome, 23 March 1977, quoted by Alberto Boatto and Guido Natti (curated by) Alighiero & Boetti (exhibition catalogue), 1984, Ravenna, Edizioni Essegi.
(3) At: http://www.opalka1965.com/fr/statement.php?lang=en (Accessed 27/09/16)