Greek painter, performance artist and sculptor, active in Italy. He studied in art college in Athens until 1956 and then went to Italy. From 1958 to 1960 he produced Alphabets, expanses of colour with letters, numbers, typographical symbols and road markings superimposed. Such works clearly demonstrated his aim of transcending the poetics of Art informeland pursuing a line of study characterised by contradictory concerns with, on the one hand, the symbols of mass urban and industrial civilisation, and on the other, primitive, fundamental, individual values. These were frequently expressed by the artist’s physical participation from 1960 in his own exhibitions at La Tartaruga, thus transforming them into performances.
Kounellis’s work developed as a spectacular mixture of painting, collages and the staging of installations, ‘environments’, performances and theatrical shows, designed to express the tensions and alienation of contemporary society, and the multiplicity, obscurity and fragmentation of its language. From 1967 he became associated with Arte povera, and his work was characterised by the juxtaposition of objects, materials and actions that were both physically and culturally antithetical to one another. These included raw materials such as stone, cotton, wool and coal, and objets trouvés such as bed-frames, doors and, since 1969, shelves. He also used fire, soot and smoke in his installations and in 1969 brought live horses into the Galleria L’Attico in Rome, stressing the fragmentation of modern society by also introducing elements of traditional culture. His experimentation with unorthodox combinations of materials continued into the 1980s.
I went to see this artwork in person at the Tate in their surrealism exhibition. This photograph doesn’t really showcase how the installation really takes over the space. But then most photographs and artwork must be seen in person to be truly appreciated. It has one whole wall of the first room in the exhibition so as soon as you walk in you are captivated by it. I wanted to see how Kounellis created his installation and used the space he had been given to hold the audience’s attention. I will be creating an art/photography installation for my final major project and any help in deciding how to set out my installation in the gallery is very useful to me.
Jannis Kounellis’s work to me always seems to take over a space, be that in a photograph or a gallery. It is big and bold and really captures my gaze as I wonder what it is about. This is certainly helped by the fact he has left most of his artwork untitled, this leaves the viewer to imagine what it is about and they would maybe stare longer at the piece wondering what it is about. For my installation I think I will be suspending ribbon from the ceiling with my photographs on, and I want it to be the piece that everyone moves to in the gallery. I want them to stand looking at all the floating images wondering what my installation means as a whole.
A lot of his work is currently owned by the Tate Gallery.