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Jannis Kounellis
Greek born Jannis Kounellis during the opening of his solo exhibition of installations, shown at the art space Kunstraum in 2003.

At a later stage during the exhibition, Jannis Kounellis spoke about his art in an artist conversation with one of the organisers of the show, and answered questions from the numerous visitors.


Jannnis Kounellis was born in 1936 in Piraeus, Greece. He studied in art college in Athens until 1956. Then he moved to Rome and enrolled in the Accademia di Belle Arti. He had his first solo exhibition at the Galleria la Tartaruga, Rome, in 1960. His New York debut was held at the Sonnabend Gallery in 1972. Since then, Kounellis's contemporary art installations have been exhibited extensively, as he had already established himself as a key figure in the "arte povera" movement - the first contemporary Italian art movement to be recognized on an international level, which began in Italy in the 1960s during a time of great economic growth and subsequent revolt. At this time Kounellis had abandoned painting as a medium and had embraced an art made of everyday materials used in collages and installations. Jannis Kounellis became well-known in the international art scene for the materials he incorporated in his installations, elements which were considered unusual - wool, coal, iron, earth, plants, wood, flames and live animals. Sometimes he would combine the materials in his installation with music or stage a performance. In 1994 Jannis Kounellis installed a selection of his work in a cargo ship called Ionion in the port of Piraeus.
video.GIF video:
Some impressions of
the opening of an
exhibition of
Jannis Kounellis
in 2009.

In the year 1967 the art critic Germano Celant defined Arte Povera (poor art) as the work of thirteen young Italian artists who exhibited in the Galleria Bertesca in Genova. He titled the exhibition Arte povera e IM spazio. The artists were Giovanni Anselmo, Alighiero Boetti, Pier-Paolo Calzolari, Luciano Fabro, Jannis Kounellis, Mario Merz, Marisa Merz, Giulio Paolini, Pino Pascali, Giuseppe Penone, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Emilio Prini and Gilberto Zorio.


Untitled, 2003, 6 bags filled with coal combined with white cotton wrapped around, steel panels, created in July 2003. Jannis Kounellis: "Wounds, like with the holy apostle Thomas who laid his finger in the wounds of Christ. It is part of my culture." After a while, referring to the way he designs his installations, he says: "I am in a "space", I have no critical distance, I experience a room [exhibition hall], which is part of my work, symbols have literary culture."

About his work he also says: "That means to live in this space, to give it dimension and thus to have the freedom to create art ..."


Jannis Kounellis


Jannis Kounellis


Untitled, 2003, 47 wooden tables, with old sewing machines on them, thick white paint, heavy bags of coal placed between the tables. Describing the composition of his installation, Kounellis states that the building, the structure of the exhibition hall, is integrated in the work of art. The columns have become part of his installation, not in a parallel way, but rather in a shifted kind of sense; everything then exists together. As Kounellis points out, he sees his composition being like many different theatrical stages, all interwoven with each other, created in each other, like the ones used by Japanese seamstresses in order to instruct young women on how to put on their Kimonos. Beneath the sewing machines he applied thick white paint, which, he says, weighs almost as much as the machines themselves.


Untitled, 2003, Large cross, upside down, 248 industrially made quarter-liter" wine glasses. The glasses, attached to each other through strings, in rows, symbolise a "transparent curtain", partly covering the cross turned upside down. The artist describes the curtain as hiding the cross turned upside down. Jannis Kounellis says that from his point of view, "this can be a reference to Saint Peter but also to the Antichrist. And inside this topic that is religious there is also something apocryphal." This piece was constructed "against a religious as well as cultural background."


Jannis Kounellis July 5th - October 11th 2003



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