Giorgio Maffei e I mille fiumi di Alighiero Boetti

Artist Book, mon amour. On the phone with Giorgio Maffei* about the leafing-through work.

“If you really want something, write it down” (A. Boetti)

Irina Zucca Alessandrelli: I know you are an architect, but how did you start selling artists’ books? When did it cross your mind?

 Giorgio Maffei: I am a collector of artists’ books. At a certain point, I realized it could become my profession. My job is to collect them and build a sensitivity to understand them. (

I.Z.A.: The artist’s book is not properly known yet, either by the public nor by art collectors. It isn’t considered at all levels as a work of art. Actually, is it a work in the shape of a book?

G.M.: Yes, it is normal to see in international museums, among the works of an artist on display, also the artist’s book. But in Italy it is very rare.

I.Z.A.: Maybe because we usually see them under glass cases, so the audience can never turn over the pages of an artist’s book and it feels more like a document than a work itself.

G.M.: Sure, it is a problem. But the books are often the basic keys to understand the path of an artist. For example, think of the book “The Thousand Rivers” by Alighiero Boetti; I have just edited a publication about it ( It is the result of a conceptual operation that Boetti begun in 1969, a filing of the rivers of the Earth, from the longest to the shortest, in collaboration with the geographical institutes around the world. But the rivers, as well as men, defy by their nature any classification, making the operation futile. “The Thousand Rivers” exists in an ordinary edition with a red cloth and in another edition with a tapestry on the cover (of which only ten specimens were found) and it is the true centre of Boetti’s poetic.

* Giorgio Maffei, born in Turin in 1948, deals with the relationship between visual art and publishing from the historical avant-garde to the contemporary. He has published several essays on the artist’s book and on books about Plain Art, about the Concrete Art Movement, as well as biographical works on Alighiero Boetti, Bruno Munari, Gastone Novelli, Sol LeWitt, Allan Kaprow, John Cage and  Ettore Sottsass. He has organized exhibitions on these themes for international museums.

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