Tag: Jannis Kounellis



A central figure of international contemporary art, Kounellis’ oeuvre has been a critical reference point for generations of artists and is found in the permanent collections of major art museums worldwide.

The exhibition, held from 19 September to 22 December 2023, It brings together a series of seven wall-mounted iron panels the artist made in 1991, each dotted with coal elements arranged along regular horizontal lines, almost suggesting an archaic visual alphabet. The works, displayed on the gallery’s ground floor in an austere yet impressive setting, exemplify the monumental nature of Kounellis’ wall reliefs, perfectly capturing his fascination with raw, everyday media that fuelled his practice beginning in the 1960s. Since its earliest iterations in the late 1960s, Kounellis’ work has stood out for its quest towards a new spatial awareness. While calling himself a painter, he used materials long considered non-pictorial and departed from traditional concepts of representation. Towards the end of the Twentieth Century, Kounellis developed an increasingly architectural language, creating labyrinthine environments that manipulated the exhibition space and the viewer’s experience, while using the materials that had become part of his vocabulary over the decades. Permeating the viewer’s space and activating all the senses, his works still hold the power to collapse the boundaries between art and life. To accompany the exhibition, Jannis Kounellis, Cardi Gallery will publish a comprehensive volume on the artist’s work and his life in Milan, curated by Studio Celant with texts by Vincenzo De Bellis and Elizabeth Mangini. A special thanks to Archivio Kounellis and Gladstone Gallery, in particular to Simone Battisti and Giulia Ruberti.

“Everything I do is painting, even if I don’t touch a brush,” he said. “I tell my truth as a painter.”

Greek-born Italian artist Jannis Kounellis (1936-2017) was a pioneer of post-war European art and a leading figure in the Italian art movement “Arte Povera”. Seeking to disrupt the commercial value of art, “Poveristi” often combined organic and mundane materials to comment on the shifting relationship between humankind and the natural environment. Kounellis’s practice encompassed ephemeral pieces and material objects, perfectly exemplifying the radical age of Arte Povera: the work of art existed to reject any representative form. Kounellis quickly moved beyond the medium’s constraints after starting his career as a painter. He began incorporating in his works materials such as fire, earth, gold, and burlap sacks, an homage to fellow artist Alberto Burri. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Kounellis continued introducing new elements, such as smoke, shelving units, trolleys, blockaded openings, mounds of coffee grounds, coal and other materials, particularly from the shipping and manufacturing industries. Imbued in these diverse fragments of everyday life, Kounellis saw a narrative of the past alongside the foundations of modern civilisation. Converging and colliding in the artist’s new poetic vocabulary, these elements reveal the rupture between the former and the latter. Kounellis nonetheless referred to his works as paintings, even though his art sought to break down and transcend the medium’s boundaries.

Jannis Kounnelis
September 19 – December 22, 2023

Corso di Porta Nuova 38
Milan, 20121, Italy
Monday-Friday 9.30 am – 6.00 pm
Saturday 11.00 am – 6.00 pm
+39 02 45 47 8189

Cover Image, Installation view Ph. © Gianluca Di Ioia


Jannis Kounellis

Jannis Kounellis, curated by Germano Celant, is the major retrospective dedicated to the artist following his death in 2017. Developed in collaboration with Archivio Kounellis, the project brings together more 70 works from 1958 to 2016, from both Italian and international museums, as well as from important private collections both in Italy and abroad. The show explores the artistic and exhibition history of Jannis Kounellis (Piraeus 1936–Rome 2017), establishing a dialogue between his works and the eighteenth-century spaces of Ca’ Corner della Regina.

The artist’s early works, originally exhibited between 1960 and 1966, deal with urban language. These paintings reproduce actual writings and signs from the streets of Rome. Later on, the artist transferred black letters, arrows and numbers onto white canvases, paper or other surfaces, in a language deconstruction that expresses a fragmentation of the real. From 1964 onward, Kounellis addressed subjects taken from nature, from sunsets to roses. In 1967 Kounellis’ investigation turned more radical, embracing concrete and natural elements including birds, soil, cacti, wool, coal, cotton, and fire.

Kounellis moved from a written and pictorial language to a physical and environmental one. Thus the use of organic and inorganic entities transformed his practice into corporeal experience, conceived as a sensorial transmission. In particular, the artist explored the sound dimension through which a painting is translated into sheet music to play or dance to. Already in 1960, Kounellis began chanting his letters on canvas, and in 1970 the artist included the presence of a musician or a dancer. An investigation into the olfactory, which began in 1969 with coffee, continued through the 1980s with elements like grappa, in order to escape the illusory limits of the painting and join with the virtual chaos of reality.In the installations realized toward the end of the 1960s, the artist sets up a dialectic battle between the lightness, instability and temporal nature connected with the fragility of the organic element and the heaviness, permanence, artificiality and rigidity of industrial structures, represented by modular surfaces in gray-painted metal. In the same period Kounellis participated in exhibitions that paved the way to Arte Povera, which in turn translated into an authentic form of visual expression. An approach that recalls ancient culture, interpreted according to a contemporary spirit, in contrast with the loss of historical and social identity that took place during the postwar period. Beginning in 1967, the year of the so-called “fire daisy,” the phenomenon of combustion began to appear frequently in the artist’s work: a “fire writing” that enlights the transformative and regenerative potential of flames. At the height of the mutation, according to alchemical tradition, we find gold, employed by the artist in multiple ways. In the installation Untitled (Tragedia civile) (1975), the contrast between the gold leaf that covers a bare wall and the black clothing hanging on a coat hanger underlines the dramatic nature of a scene that alludes to a personal and historical crisis. In Kounellis’ work smoke, naturally connected with fire, functions both as a residual of a pictorial process, and as proof of the passage of time. The traces of soot on stones, canvases and walls that characterize some of his works from 1979 and 1980 indicate a personal “return to painting,” in opposition to the anti-ideological and hedonistic approach employed in a large part of the painting production in the 1980s. Throughout his artistic research Kounellis develops a tragic and personal relationship with culture and history, avoiding a refined and reverential attitude. He would eventually represent the past with an incomplete collection of fragments of classical statues, as in the work from 1974. Meanwhile, in other works the Greco-Roman heritage is explored through the mask, as in the 1973 installation made up of a wooden frame on which plaster casts of faces are placed. The door is another symbol of the artist’s intolerance for the dynamics of his present. The passageways between rooms are closed up with stones, wood, sewing machines and iron reinforcing bars, making several spaces inaccessible in order to emphasize their unknown, metaphysical and surreal dimension.Continue Reading..