Alighiero Boetti (Italian, 1940-1994) Mimetico 1968
Lot 15AR
Alighiero Boetti
(Italian, 1940-1994)
Sold for £ 75,000 (US$ 100,630) inc. premium

Lot Details
Alighiero Boetti (Italian, 1940-1994)

camouflage fabric laid on board

21 by 29.6 cm.
8 1/4 by 11 5/8 in.

This work was executed in 1968.


  • This work is registered in the Archivio Alighiero Boetti, Rome, under no. 8893, and is accompanied by a photo-certificate of authenticity.

    Piero Berengo Gardin Collection, Rome
    Private Collection, Rome (by descent from the above)
    Acquired directly from the above by the present owner

    Repetto Gallery, London, Metamorphosis: The Alchemists of Matter, A Point of View on Arte Povera, 2016, p. 15, illustrated in colour

    A rare and important early work by Italian master Alighiero Boetti, Mimetico of 1968 epitomises the key concepts of Arte Povera, the influential artistic movement that helped to shape late Twentieth Century attitudes towards art. This canvas belongs to a series produced by the artist at the beginning of his career; indeed, another Mimetico was included in his first solo exhibition, held at Galleria Christian Stein in Turin in January 1967, alongside other iconic works such as his Rotolo di cartone ondulato ('Roll of Corrugated Fibreboard') from 1966 and Catasta ('Stack') from 1967. Clearly indicating Boetti's radical approach, which focused more on the materiality of the work than any established notions of painting or sculpture, this group of works stood as a defiant challenge to what had come before.

    Created by extending ready-made camouflage fabric over a stretcher or board, as with the present example, Mimetico from 1968 is highly conceptual, and can be analysed in numerous ways. In utilising a ready-made fabric, Boetti questioned the role of the artist in the creative process; he chose a fabric conceived to imitate the natural world, and the creation of a work of art from a pattern designed to disappear into the background is delightfully paradoxical. The philosophy of Arte Povera was outlined by Germano Celant, who organised a ground-breaking 1967 group exhibition in Genoa: "Language is acknowledged and reduced to a purely visual element, divested of historical and narrative superstructures. The empirical quality of artistic enquiry, rather than its speculative aspect, is exalted. The hard facts and the physical presence of an object, or the behaviour of a subject, is emphasised..." (Antonella Soldaini, 'Alighiero e Boetti' in Andrea Tarsia Ed., Alighiero e Boetti, London 1999, p. 8). Like a bolt out of the blue, works such as Mimetico provided a much-needed jolt to the artistic establishment, and a new era of radical creativity began.

    In selecting this distinctive camouflage material, with its pools of warm red, its lush greens and patches of chartreuse, Boetti was producing what has been described as "a kind of anti-painting"; as writer and curator Mark Godfrey points out, the viewer is asked to reinterpret an instantly recognisable pattern in new and unusual ways: "The literal identity of the ready-made material would disintegrate as, in the imagination, these patterns would become something other" (Mark Godfrey, Alighiero Boetti, New Haven 2011, pp. 59-60). It is no coincidence that its irregular planes of colour allude to Abstract Expressionism, however, rather than attempting to replicate the style of the American artists, Boetti parodies it. The camouflage pattern, especially when seen in Boetti's carefully cropped composition may initially reflect the abstract, gestural swathes of colour by then widely familiar from the American movement, whereas, the use of industrially fabricated, military issue material undermines the perceived importance and influence of the Abstract Expressionists. Whilst questioning the Abstract Expressionists compositionally, the inherent military associations of the material also revealed a political intent, after all, Mimetico was created during some of the darkest days of the Vietnam War.

    The influence of Boetti's early work was widespread, and can be clearly seen, for example, in Andy Warhol's Camouflage paintings of 1986. Comprising screen prints of camouflage patterns in bright Pop colours, Warhol's canvases are a step removed from Boetti's Mimetici, their original source material reinterpreted during the creative process. For Boetti, however, such adaptation was unnecessary: it was the very substance of the appropriated fabric, unchanged and unadorned, which rendered his works more direct, and more daring.

    The importance of his Mimetici has led to the inclusion of large-scale examples in recent retrospectives such as Game Plan, held at the Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid, Tate Modern, London and MoMA, New York from 2011 to 2012. A group of six Mimetico each of the same measurements of this example and from 1968 are held in the permanent collection of the MAXXI in Rome and a larger example is in the collection of the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. Furthermore, a very interesting material assemblage dating from 1966-1967 which shows a cut of the 'Tessuto Mimetico' on the top left is in the permanent collection of MoMA in New York. The present work was originally held in the esteemed collection of the noted intellectual and filmmaker Piero Berengo Gardin in Rome and is presented at auction for the first time.

    In the present work, we find Boetti's most influential theories condensed into a more intimate, but no less extraordinary work; its exquisite scale rendering the forms of the camouflage design even more abstract than in its larger equivalents. These early Mimetici seemingly made an impact on Boetti himself, as he returned to using patterned fabrics in the early 1980s, although the camouflage prints that he employed by then were no longer military issue; it is clear that these 1960s works held an crucial place in the development of the artist's oeuvre. This Mimetico's unavoidable strength, a capacity to surprise and challenge, proves that the relevance of Boetti's philosophy remains undimmed, almost half a century after this pivotal work was created.
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  1. Amy Thompson
    Specialist - Contemporary Art
    101 New Bond Street
    London, United Kingdom W1S 1SR
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