Jannis Kounellis
Artistic currents

1936-2017. Jannis Kounellis (Piraeus, 1936) is a Greek painter and sculptor, a leading exponent of what the critic Germano Celant called "arte povera".

Twenty years old, he left Greece and moved to Rome to study at the Academy of Fine Arts under the guidance of Toti Scialoja to whom he owes the influence of abstract expressionism that together with informal art constitutes the fundamental combination from which his creative path takes its starting point.

In 1960 he made his debut in Rome, setting up his first solo exhibition at the "La Tartaruga" gallery.

Compared to his masters, Kounellis immediately shows a very strong communication urgency that leads him to the rejection of individualistic, aesthetic and decadent perspectives and to the exaltation of the public, collective value of artistic language. In his early works, in fact, he painted typographic marks on a clear background that allude to the invention of a new order for a shattered, pulverized language.

The first exhibitions ideologically close to the poor art movement date back to 1967 in which the use of products and materials of common use suggest for art a radically creative, mythical function, devoid of concessions to mere representation. Also evident are the references to the Greekness of its origins. His installations become real sets that physically occupy the gallery and surround the viewer making him a protagonist actor in a space that also begins to fill with live animals, as opposed to geometries built with materials that evoke industrial production. In the "Margherita di fuoco" also appears fire, a mythical and symbolic element par excellence, generated by a pipe cylinder.

In 1969 the installation became a real performance with the horses tied to the walls of fabio Sargentini's L'Attico gallery, in a sumptuous ideal clash between nature and culture in which the role of the artist is reduced to the minimum level of a substantially manual workmanship, almost as a man of fatigue.

With the transition to the 1970s Kounellis' willful enthusiasm is charged with a different heaviness, the result of disenchantment and frustration in the face of the failure of the innovative potential of poor art, swallowed up in spite of the commercial dynamics of the consumer society, manned by traditional spaces of use such as museums and galleries. This feeling is expressed by the famous closed door with stones presented for the first time in San Benedetto del Tronto and then over the years, with significant structural variations full of poetic meanings, in Rome, Mönchengladbach, Baden-Baden, London, Cologne. In 1972 Kounellis participated for the first time in the Venice Biennale.

The years of bitterness continue with installations in which the vitality of fire is replaced by the dark presence of soot while live animals give way to embalmed ones. The culmination of this process is perhaps the grandiose work presented at the Espai Poblenou in Barcelona in 1989, characterized by newly slaughtered quarters of ox fixed by metal slab hooks and illuminated by oil lanterns.

In the more recent years Kounellis's art has become virtuously mannerist and has taken up themes and suggestions that had previously characterized it with a more meditative spirit, able to interpret with a renewed awareness the primitive propensity for monumental emphasis. Examples of this new research direction are the 1995 Offertorio installation in Piazza del Plebiscito, naples and the exhibition in Mexico in 1999.

Major exhibitions continue in South America, such as those in Argentina (2000) and Uruguay (2001). In 2002, the artist proposed the installation of horses at the Whitechapel in London and, shortly afterwards, at the National Gallery of Modern Art in Rome he built a huge sheet metal labyrinth along which he placed, as if they were as many places, the traditional elements of his art, such as the "coal mills", the "cotton mills", jute bags and stone heaps ("Single Act"). In 2004 he created an installation in the Galleria dell'Accademia in Florence, within the temporary exhibition Forme per il David, born to celebrate the five hundred years since the creation of Michelangelo's David. In 2007 he worked on the realization of the 383rd feast of Santa Rosalia in Palermo designing the triumphal chariot of the Santa. Also in 2007 he inaugurated in Rome the Porta dell'Orto Monastico of the Basilica of Santa Croce in Jerusalem, an imposing iron gate embellished with chromatic elements made of glass stones. In 2009 the Fumagalli Gallery and the Adriano Bernareggi Museum (Bergamo) dedicated respectively to the artist a personal and a single installation created site specific. The artist creates a special set-up of works proposing a reflection on art and man, testimony of the poetic reflections that have always been at the center of his work and for which he was indicated as a possible guest at the Venice Biennale 2011 of the first pavilion of Vatican City. In 2012, moreover, one of his famous works is exhibited at the Riso contemporary art museum in the city of Palermo.

Died in Rome on February 16, 2017