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Boetti Tapestry Takes $2M at London Auction

Boetti’s embroidery Tutto, 1988, sold for $2.1 million at
Christie’s Italian art sale last month

NEW YORK— Numerous works by Italian conceptual artist Alighiero Boetti hit the auction block in recent weeks at the fall series of contemporary art sales in London.

The highest price realized was £1.3 million ($2.1 million), given for Tutto, 1988, an embroidery on linen that was included in Christie’s Oct. 14 Italian sale. The work, which was designed by the artist and embroidered by women in Afghanistan, had been estimated at £1.2 million/1.8 million.

The sale had three other works by the artist, all of which found buyers, including: an eleven-part colored pencil on paper, Contest of Harmony and Invention, 1970, which sold for £385,250 ($607,154), compared with an estimate of £300,000/400,000; another embroidered tapestry, Tutto, 1988, sold for £289,250 ($455,858) on an estimate of £300,000/500,000; and an ink on paper, One Nine Seven Seven, 1977, that sold for £253,250 ($399,122) compared with an estimate of £200,000/300,000.

The only disappointment of the week came at Bonhams auction house, which held its inaugural contemporary art auction in London on Oct. 13, when the sale’s expected highlight, Boetti’s Anno, 1984, 1984, made up of 192 pencil drawings of magazine covers, failed to sell with an estimate of £1.2 million ($1.8 million).

David Lieber, director of Sperone Westwater, which has shown Boetti’s work since the 1960s, told ARTnewsletter the work is an important piece, though it may have been unfamiliar to some collectors.

Prior to the sale, Bonhams contemporary art specialist Anthony McNerney had conceded that because there were no precedents for such a work, a value estimation had been “inspired guesswork.” The only other comparable examples are in museums. But, to secure it for sale against rival auctioneers, McNerney had arranged a cash advance for a small portion of the value, which would be returnable should Bonhams not find a buyer.

No one gallery represents Boetti. There is an estate, but Lieber says that there is “not much artwork” in it, and other pieces are owned by Boetti’s first wife and children from his first marriage, as well as by his second wife.

Sperone Westwater continues to buy, sell and exhibit Boetti’s work. New York-based Gladstone Gallery and Sprueth Magers in Berlin also frequently handle the artist’s work.

Prices range widely says Lieber. For instance, prices for a Tutto—cut up shapes from various newspapers and magazines, start at $500,000 and reach $1.5 million, sometimes $2.5 million for “exceptionally large” works. The artist is also well known for his “maps,” which are embroidered in the shape of countries and continents.

“No one knows how many ‘mappas’ there are, but we think there are between 300 and 400,” Lieber said, with prices ranging between $1 million/3 million. In addition, there are letter embroideries, which usually range in size from 10- by 10-inch squares to 24- by 24-inch squares, and in price from $30,000/100,000. Large letter embroideries, such as a 40- by 40-inch square, may be priced from $250,000/350,000, Lieber says.

It was rare that the artist put his own hand to creating a finished work, Lieber noted, but occasionally, at different points in his career, he produced a collage on his own and these are priced at “less than $100,000.” According to Lieber, “the market has favored the embroideries” executed by craftswomen hired by the artist.

A retrospective that opened Oct. 5 at Madrid’s Reina Sofia museum runs through Feb. 5, 2012. Afterwards, it will travel to the Tate, London and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Boetti’s work has appeared at public sales with regularity, reaching the top price of £1.8 million ($2.8 million), compared with an estimate of £1.2 million/1.8 million, at Christie’s London in June 2010 for the work, Mappa, 1989.