*fondazione Prada, mostra Venezia

may 019

Developed in collaboration with Archivio Kounellis, the project brings together more than 60 works from 1959 to 2015. The show explores the artistic and exhibition history of Jannis Kounellis (Piraeus 1936 – Rome 2017), highlighting key moments in the evolution of his visual poetics and establishing a dialogue between his works and the eighteenth-century spaces of Ca’ Corner della Regina.

Jannis Kounellis Untitled, 2011 coats, hats, shoes  in the background  Jannis Kounellis Untitled (Giallo), 1965 oil on canvas

Jannis Kounellis Untitled, 2011 coats, hats, shoes
in the background Jannis Kounellis Untitled (Giallo), 1965 oil on canvas

The artist’s early works,
originally exhibited between
1960 and 1966, are
presented in the spaces
on the first floor of the
Venetian palazzo and
deal with urban language..

In an early phase, 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— these latter represented on canvases using automatic buttons. In 1967 Kounellis’ investigation turned more radical with the aim of overcoming the traditionally pictorial uniformity of his early production, embracing concrete and natural elements including soil, cacti, wool, coal, cotton, and fire.

Kounellis moved from a written and pictorial language to a physical and environmental one, where the conceptual process became interwoven with elementary materials. The elitist, aseptic and authoritative language typical of the art world is replaced by a more expressive one based on the primacy of vital elements and a terrestrial relationship with art. Thus the use of organic and inorganic entities transformed his practice into corporeal experience, conceived as a sensorial transmission and investigation. 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, embrace the world of the senses and join with the virtual chaos of reality.

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, as in the work from 1974 made up of portions of plaster casts of classical statues laid out on a table and accompanied by a lit paraffin lamp. 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 at regular intervals. This wooden support encloses a black canvas that evokes a theatrical space in which the mask, according to Greek tradition, establishes the role and identity of the character, defining its origins and destiny.

Jannis Kounellis Untitled, 1993–2008wardrobes, steel cables Jannis Kounellis Untitled, 2004lead rolls, fabric

Jannis Kounellis Untitled, 1993–2008wardrobes, steel cables
Jannis Kounellis Untitled, 2004lead rolls, fabric

The door, displayed in this exhibition in three different declinations dating from 1972 to 2004, is another symbol of the artist’s intolerance for the dynamics of his present. The passageways between rooms are closed up with stones, iron reinforcing bars and lead sheets revealing the historical interiority of the building and making several spaces inaccessible in order to emphasize their unknown, metaphysical and surreal dimension. Over the years Kounellis would present the door motif in various versions, sometimes accompanied by bells and plaster casts of classical statues, the stratified memory of a visual and sensorial legacy at once profound and impenetrable.

The retrospective is completed on the ground floor by documents 3⁄4including films, exhibition catalogues, invitations, posters and archival photographs3⁄4 that trace Kounellis’ exhibition history, and by a focus on his theater projects. 

JANNIS KOUNELLIS at Fondazione Prada, Mosta Venezia
from 11 May to 24 November 2019

curated by Germano Celant
seen by Agostino Osio
courtesy Fondazione Prada