Alighiero Boetti (Italian, 1940-1994) Il Cimento dell'Armonia e dell'Invenzione 1970
Lot 26AR
Alighiero Boetti
(Italian, 1940-1994)
Il Cimento dell'Armonia e dell'Invenzione
£ 45,000 - 65,000
US$ 59,000 - 85,000

Lot Details
Alighiero Boetti (Italian, 1940-1994) Il Cimento dell'Armonia e dell'Invenzione 1970 Alighiero Boetti (Italian, 1940-1994) Il Cimento dell'Armonia e dell'Invenzione 1970
Alighiero Boetti (Italian, 1940-1994)
Il Cimento dell'Armonia e dell'Invenzione

signed twice, dated 1970 and inscribed Rocking - snake on the reverse
red and blue crayon on paper

70 by 100 cm.
27 9/16 by 39 3/8 in.


  • This work is registered in the Archivio Alighiero Boetti, Rome, under no. 7060 and is accompanied by a photo-certificate of authenticity.

    Private Collection, Italy (acquired directly from the artist in 1970)
    Sale: Sotheby's, London, Contemporary Art Evening Auction, 10 February 2015, Lot 27 (in this sale sold as a group of 5 works)
    Acquired directly from the above by the present owner

    On the reverse of the present work there is a blue ink drawing of Boetti's Rocking snake motif.

    Now recognised as one of the most influential Italian conceptual artists of the second half of the Twentieth Century, Alighiero Boetti throughout his career returned to one of the most basic, and yet one of the most effective methods of making his marks, namely graphite or ink on paper.

    In the series Il Cimento dell'armonia e dell'invenzione (which can be translated as 'Test of Harmony and Invention') from 1970, from which we have two works consisting of meticulously executed geometric drawings on two large sheets of squared paper, we witness the power of this apparent simplicity, a simplicity which in fact required many hours of careful thought, intense planning and hard work. For all its calm restraint and cool clarity, this is a work of art with a complicated philosophy, a conceptual masterwork which marked an important turning point in the way Boetti himself regarded art and his own practice.

    The two present examples (lots 26 and 27) belong to a series of works with the same title, all created in the late 1960s and early 1970s during a period when the artist was experiencing a distinct change of direction in his work. Seemingly rejecting the dramatic materiality of his previous output, Boetti began to search for most basic approaches, and it was thanks to this new attitude that he came to paper and graphite. Regularly involving many days' work (another piece related to the Cimenti was simply entitled 42 ore, or 42 hours, as a reminder of the vast amount of time spent on its painstaking production) these two Il Cimento dell'armonia e dell'invenzione required the careful redrawing of the countless printed grid lines on the paper, with each work following a slightly different system to create various new shapes and patterns in seemingly infinite variety. A rule was set for each one, the end result remaining totally unpredictable, and the final impact of such a convoluted exercise only visible as it reached completion. What is also extremely interesting is that on the reverse of lot 26 there is a blue ink drawing of a Rocking snake, which is a Boetti's leitmotif and also the subject of one of his 82 prints from the Insicuro Noncurante portfolio, 1966-1975.

    The title of the work, which Boetti borrowed from the set of concertos written by Baroque composer Antonio Vivaldi between 1723 and 1725 which includes his famous Four Seasons, proposes the contrasts which are inherent in the drawing itself, this ongoing battle between harmony and invention, the clash of reason and chance which dominated Boetti's mind at this time.

    Boetti is known to have been a playful artist, a man fascinated by all sorts of games, tests and puzzles. In setting himself such a test with the Il Cimento dell'armonia e dell'invenzione, Boetti knew that he was creating something wonderful, sometimes dark and mysterious, sometimes bright and beautiful: "Everything conceivable happened...I've inscribed both terrible and marvellous things into them" (quoted in Lynn Cooke, 'Boetti's Game Plan', in Alighiero Boetti: Game Plan, London 2012, p.14).

    Although by 1969 Boetti had already been widely heralded as a key player in Arte Povera, a group of like-minded, forward-thinking Italian artists who attempted to subvert the commercialisation of art by creating it from the most worthless materials, works such as the two present examples marked the artist's new disdain for the movement and its intentions. Il Cimento dell'armonia e dell'invenzione, was created not long after the artist declared his own dissatisfaction with Arte Povera's focus on the object in late 1968, and represents a new, more conceptual attitude from Boetti. In his rejection of Arte Povera and the ideas of its figurehead Germano Celant, Boetti's work began to take on certain elements which could be related more closely to Minimalism, a movement already established on the other side of the Atlantic. The almost mathematical appearance of Il Cimento dell'armonia e dell'invenzione can be compared to the work of Agnes Martin, who was also interested in creating large-scale hand-drawn grids both on canvas and on paper. In its strict adherence to a preplanned system, correlations can also be found with the work of Sol Lewitt. Indeed, the larger sculptures that Boetti was creating around this time, grid-like glass and metal constructions which also relate to the present two artworks, bear obvious similarities to Lewitt's Cubic-Modular Wall Structure of 1966, now in MoMA New York. In lot 26 and 27, however, we see something that Lewitt's Minimalism generally lacks: the free hand of the artist at work, the human input into the process with all of the tiny anomalies and irregularities that it inevitably produces.

    If the method of creating Alighiero Boetti's Il Cimento dell'armonia e dell'invenzione, 1970 is based on careful planning and preparation, then the fascinating end result is inevitably uncertain. It remains as absorbing to the viewer who stands before it today as it was to the artist who spent many laborious hours creating it. Much like Antonio Vivaldi's cycle of music, the end result of this theoretical clash is a dazzling work of art which is well structured, brilliantly constructed from the basic element of lines on paper. Playful and yet profound, Il Cimento dell'armonia e dell'invenzione is a work of art which sparkles with seemingly inexhaustible verve and vivacity.
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  1. Amy Thompson
    Specialist - Contemporary Art
    101 New Bond Street
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