Jannis Kounellis (Greek: Γιάννης Κουνέλλης; born 23 March 1936) is a Greek contemporary artist based in Rome. He studied in art college in Athens until 1956 and at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Rome.
Life and work
Early on Kounellis lived in Greece during the Second World War and a civil war that lasted for ten years until he moved to Rome in 1956.
From the years of 1960–1966, Kounellis went through a period of only exhibiting paintings. In some of his first exhibitions, Kounellis began stenciling numbers, letters, and words onto his canvases often reflecting advertisements and signs seen on the street. In 1960 he began to introduce found sculptural objects such as actual street signs into his work, exhibiting at Galleria La Tartaruga. This same year he donned one of his stencil paintings as a garment and created a performance in his studio to demonstrate himself literally becoming one with his painting. This newfound convergence of painting, sculpture, and performance was Kounellis' way out of traditional art. By 1961 he began to paint on newspaper to reflect his feelings towards modern society and politics. In 1963, Kounellis introduced found objects in his paintings, among them live animals but also fire, earth, burlap sacks, gold. He replaced the canvas with bed frames, doorways, windows or simply the gallery itself. Kounellis' work from the 1980s, which also consisted of sculptures and performances using unusual materials, traveled all over Europe. In 1974 Jannis Kounellis performs with Edward Kienholz, Wolf Vostell and other artists in Berlin at the ADA – Aktionen der Avantgarde. His work has become integral to numerous renowned, international museums' collections.
In 1967, Kounellis became associated with Arte Povera, a movement theorized by curator Germano Celant as a major shift from work on flat surfaces to installations. Kounellis participated in the exhibition 'Arte Povera – e IM Spazio' at the La Bertesca Gallery in Genoa curated by Germano Celant, which brought together artists whose work was concerned with the space between art and life, and nature and culture. Examples of artists who substantiated this basis of Arte Povera as a movement include Alighiero Boetti, Luciano Fabro, Giulio Paolini, Pino Pascali and Emilio Prini. To solidify the movement, Germano Celant curated another group show, 'Arte Povera', which was exhibited at the De' Foscherari gallery in Bologna in 1968 with similar artists; . In the same year Kounellis exhibited 'Senza titolo (Untitled)', which consisted of raw wool, rope and a wooden structure all leaning against a wall. Finally, Kounellis was also included in 'RA3 Arte Povera + Azioni povere' which was organized by Marcello Rumma and curated by Germano Celant.
In 1967, Kounellis installed "live birds in cages along with rose-shaped, cloth cut-outs pinned to canvas" alongside his painting. Through this shift in his work, "Kounellis was more interested in anarchical freedom from linguistic norms and conventional materials. The space of the gallery and the exhibition site in general were transformed into a stage where real life and fiction could join in a suspension of disbelief." The viewers became part of the scene of these living natural sources of energy within the gallery space. He continued his involvement with live animals later in 1969, when he exhibited twelve living horses, as if they were cars, in the Galleria l'Attico's new location in an old garage in Via Beccaria. Gradually, Kounellis introduced new materials, such as propane torches, smoke, coal, meat, ground coffee, lead, and found wooden objects into his installations. He also looked beyond the gallery environment to historical (mostly industrial) sites. In 1997, Kounellis installed thirteen wardrobes and two doors that were sealed in lead along a scaffolding ledge that blocked the entry to a central hall.
In 1968, in an interview by Marisa Volpi, Kounellis stated that incidental adjustments are certain as aspects that can indicate the human liberty of life
Arte Povera group shows
- 'Arte Povera – e IM Spazio' 1967 La Bertesca Gallery
- 'Arte Povera' 1968 De Foscherari gallery, Bologna
- 'RA3 Arte povera + Azioni povere' 1968 Arsenali della Republica, Amalfi
- 'Live in your head: When attitudes become form' 1969 Kunsthalle, Bern
- 'Op losse schroeven: situaties en cryptostructuren' 1969 Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
- 'conceptual art arte povera land art' 1970 Galleria Civica d Arte Moderna, Turin
- 'Arte Povera, Antiform, Sculptures 1966–69' 1982 CAPC Centre d'Arts Plastiques Contemporains, Bordeaux
- 'Corenza in corenza' 1984 La Mole Antonelliana, Turin
Kounellis has participated in many international exhibitions, including the Biennale of Paris (1967, 1969), Documenta (1972, 1977, 1982), the Venice Biennale (1972, 1976, 1978, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1993), the Istanbul Biennial (1993), and the Biennale of Sydney (2008). His work has also been exhibited in many museums and institutions such as the Kunstmuseum in Bern, the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, The Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London, The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid, and the Neue National gallery in Berlin.
In 1994, Kounellis held an exhibition titled Ionion, in which he displayed his work on a boat docked in his town of birth in Piraeus, Greece. He later curated another exhibition that on another ship called Apollo in 1973 as an addition to "Ionion".
In October 2009, Kounellis exhibited many works at Tate Modern Gallery in London, UK. Jonathan Jones of The Guardian newspaper noted that his "Dry-stone walling, sacks of grain and rice, and a painting that includes part of the score of St John Passion by JS Bach, bring a sense of real life, organic and ancient, into the museum."
- Van Abbemuseum, Amsterdam
- Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
- National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh
- Lehmbruck Museum, Germany
- Tate, London
- Kunstmuseum, Lucerne
- Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid
- Guggenheim Museum, New York
- Museum of Modern Art, New York
- Museo d'Arte Contemporanea Donnaregina, Naples
- Centre Pompidou, Paris
- Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris
- Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam
- Castello di Rivoli, Turin
- Hallen für Neue Kunst Schaffhausen, Switzerland
- Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC, USA
- Carla Lonzi, "Interview with Jannis Kounellis", 'Marcatre', Rome, December 1966, p. 134
- Marisa Volpi, "Interview with Jannis Kounellis", 'Marcatre', Rome, May 1968
- Jannis Kounellis, 'V Premio Pascali', Bari 1979
- Bruno Cora, "Interview with Jannis Kounellis", 'Kounellis' [cat.], Musee d Arte Moderne de la Ville Paris, 1980
- Jannis Kounellis, 'Jannis Kounellis [cat.], Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, Einshoven 1981
- Jannis Kounellis, "Pensieri e Osservazioni", ' Marcartre', nos 43–45, July–September 1968
- Jannis Kounellis, "Citta di Riga", 'Macerata', no 1, Autumn 1976, pp. 43–49
- Robin White, "Interview with Jannis Kounellis", 'View', no 1, Oakland, March 1979, pp. 8–21
- Jannis Kounellis, 'From the Europe of the Old' [cat.], Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, 1987