My American Boetti

Jun 7, 2017 9:22PM

The first time I met Mel Bochner, a couple of years ago, I told him that he had become my American Boetti. This amused him and led him to tell me the story of how he and Alighiero Boetti met in Turin, back in the 70s. Upon meeting, they had an argument, then ended up at the movies together with another fellow artist, Salvo, who at the time was also exploring language as a way of artistic expression. Movies in Italy are not subtitled, making the occurrence a ‘clin d’oeil’ to Mel’s statement “Language is not transparent”. The three men exchanged each other’s works then. In 1974, Mel donated his Boetti to the David Winton Bell Gallery at Brown University. He believes this to be the first work of Boetti’s to enter an American museum. Bochner retains the piece from Salvo in his personal collection to this day.

This preface is dedicated to Salvo, who serves as a bridge between the two and was meant to author the text for this foreword. He sadly left this world last September.

When I decided to embark on the adventure of opening the gallery, one of my motivations was to create a place of convergence for think-alike creative minds, a home for projects that trace the interwoven threads of existence. This first show took shape naturally as Boetti’s self-proclaimed “Shaman/Showman” resonates with my penchant for mysticism, and Bochner’s brutal and irreverent wit chimes with me. The exhibition reveals the artistic and personal association between two men from two very different cultural environments. It also links to my childhood around Alighiero, through my family’s close ties with him, and to my present life as a New York art explorer with Mel.

I was interested in presenting these two conceptual artists who, through their remarkable skills as colorists, allowed the ‘concept’ to become sexy and appealing, touching a wider audience and not excluding those sensitive to beauty. I also wanted to underline their choice of materials, velvet for Bochner and cotton embroideries for Boetti, neither a conventional choice among contemporary artists. Although both have wide and diverse bodies of work, the focus in this exhibition is their respective explorations of language. Words, quotes, statements become a personal experience for each of us and allow us to be inspired, disturbed, stimulated way beyond the image. Bochner is interested in the hidden ideologies in language, subtext versus text versus context, art as subject without object. He juxtaposes the vernacular and the proper, the formal and the vulgar, the high brow and the low brow. This theme of duality also dominates Boetti’s exploration of opposites and of integrating opposites into one.

The show is about dialogue and duality, of which the etymological roots - dia (through) and duo (two) sound intriguingly similar - so similar I would venture they are interrelated. So too, this exhibition aims to unearth interrelationships. Boetti and Bochner, aside from (both) being born in 1940, share a common refusal to compromise their artistic impulse, never capitulating to the audience’s expectations. They both remain loyal to their ideas and to their visions, each indisputably following his individuality despite external pressures to succumb to definition. Each, in his way, aligns with the gallery’s spirit as a nexus of talent derived from an uncompromising sense of integrity, streaming from the creative source. There are no coincidences, but synchronicities, and these were at work in my choice of Mel Bochner and Alighiero Boetti for the gallery’s inaugural show. Both Bochner and Boetti allow space in their processes for the human-divine interaction of chance - the dance, between the time for us to take action and the time to surrender to the ways of the Universe. In this context, Boetti’s “felici coincidenze” or happy coincidences meant leaving the choice of colors to the discretion of his Afghan women embroiderers. And for Bochner, the way the paint spreads through the fabric is always a final uncalculated surprise.

The title of the show Verba Volant Scripta Manent, from Latin, ‘Words fly away but what is written remains’, comes from one of Boetti’s embroideries. Boetti said “If you really want something write it down.” His words resonate with the gallery’s modus operandi, trying to avoid unnecessary talk while remaining concrete - simply staying away from the usual “BLAH BLAH BLAH...”

David Totah