Jannis Kounnellis

28 october 1988 - 12 february 1989

Curated by Rudi Fuchs, Johannes Gachnang and Cristina Mundici


The work of Jannis Kounellis (Athens, Greece, 1936) investigates the persistence of the past within the present, and the relationship/fracture between individual knowledge and perception and the collective consciousness. Kounellis addresses the complexities of contemporary art, in which the possibility of unity, structure and centrality are reconciled with the specific aspects that distinguish the contemporary gaze and experience: polysemy, multiplicity, fragmentation, and a fleeting, poetic way of seeing the world. He asserts his right to freedom of expression as a means of analysing and reacting to the dynamic historical and cultural context in which the individual exists, creating works of art that are inclusive experiences and expressions of a humanist tension in the way we understand the world and ourselves.

As regards simple realism or pure abstraction, Kounellis favours the intensity of a direct encounter between the viewer and object, amplifying the “fantastic” potential of this encounter in comparison with its literal sense. The artist fills the exhibition space with writing and signs along with everyday objects such as sacks, beds and clothes and natural substances such as coffee, coal and cotton: recurring elements that both reflect an autobiographical usage and symbolise a condition, a vision that moves between different cultures, immersed in a daily experience that is loaded with memories of other times and places. Similarly, he transforms canvases into raw, malleable surfaces – predominantly of metal – where objects such as a braid of hair, an egg or a parrot roosting on a perch announce their real, tangible presence rather than merely alluding to the subject represented.

The clash between the metaphorical illumination of a symbol and the intensity and unpredictability of real experience also informs the ideology or references to a metaphysical dimension, transforming them into something that is profoundly human in which the reconstruction of complex universes of meaning is effected through small, banal details. One example is the wall covered with gold leaf, that recalls the gold backgrounds of Byzantine art but that is also objectivised by the presence of a black coat and hat casually hanging on a clothes stand, as if to suggest that this were a normal transitional space or waiting room. The numerous gas canisters placed behind a metallic rose or on a section of floor pointing towards the viewer become a physical epiphany of an otherwise remote meaning, and the expression of a fragile yet strenuous harmony to be found at the very core of the conflicts of human history.