Catalogue entry

T04937 Untitled 1983 Senza titolo

Oil, watercolour and black crayon on wove paper 356 × 430 (14 × 17)
Inscribed ‘Kounellis 83’ b.r. and ‘Kounellis 83’ on back b.l.
Purchased from Anthony d'Offay Gallery (Grant-in-Aid) 1987

Prov: Bt from the artist by Anthony d'Offay Gallery May 1987
Exh: Works on Paper, Anthony d'Offay Gallery, May 1987 (23, no cat.)

This drawing depicts a diagonal barrier made up of a number of irregular-shaped blocks set in front of, and partially blocking, a dark rectangular space, which can be read as a doorway. The artist has used roughly sketched crayon lines to suggest the ceiling, floor and walls of a notional room setting. The impression of depth is emphasised by the area of black oil paint in the centre of the composition. The separate parts of the sloping barrier are drawn in black crayon and then roughly painted over in blue, green, yellow, red, terracotta and grey watercolour.

In a letter to the compiler of 30 November 1994, the artist stated that he made this drawing in New York, while engaged on working for his solo exhibition at the Sonnabend Gallery which opened in February 1983. Kounellis made a number of drawings at this time in order to plan installations for the show. However T04937 does not relate to any of the works he finally exhibited, and was not itself included in the show.

The subject matter of T04937 relates to a recurring theme in Kounellis's work, namely that of the closure, in part or in full, of doors and windows in spaces in which he has exhibited. He first used this imagery in 1969 in an untitled piece which consisted of a doorway blocked with large irregularly shaped stones (repr. Jannis Kounellis, exh. cat., Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago 1986, pl.60, installed at San Benedetto del Tronto, Tronto, Italy). It recurs in a number of untitled works which date from the early and mid-1980s (repr. ibid., pls.61, 63, 65–6, 68, 69, 111, 114–16). In his essay for the Chicago catalogue, ‘Mute Prophecies: The Art of Jannis Kounellis’, Thomas McEvilley wrote of these works (ibid., p.87):

The fundamental image of containment made its appearance in 1969 ... the most important of the creations of this year was the door blocked with stones in a peasant style of masonry. This image has recurred in various works from 1969 to 1986. The walled-up doors and windows are usually interpreted as involving the theme of blockage, as clearly, at a literal level, they do. Some critics have called them a protest against the gallery, against the separation of art from life: the blocked off doors close off the gallery and prevent it from getting sustenance. But this common Anglo-American avant-garde theme is not acknowledged by Kounellis, who denies that the interpretation is meaningful to him. A Greek critic was impressed by the fact that the style of masonry Kounellis uses in these works is characteristic of the Greek countryside and village culture ... Kounellis rejects this interpretation also - as he always rejects interpretations of his work that depend on Greek parallels and meanings.

In Kounellis's iconography these works relate to his characteristic theme of history and measure. The measure ... is always the measure of a person; it is an object or framework made to human dimensions and proportions. Like the bed, the doorway is such a measure, as is the window. The building stone is also a kind of measure ... it is part of a wall that men build to their own measure; and it is sized for the grasp of the human hand ... Modern windows and doorways are measures from one age and the ancient stones placed one on top of the other to make a wall are measures from another, more ancient one. Compressed together they constitute yet another image of a complex of interrelated ideas, including the changing of the measure with the flow of history, the measure appropriate to each age, the loss of measure, and the need to regain, or rather reshape, a new one. Like so much of Kounellis's work, they embody the passage of human history, of the changing of the human self and of its products.

In the 1980s Kounellis began to introduce fragments of classical plaster casts into his stone barriers (see, for example, ‘Untitled’, 1980, repr. Jannis Kounellis, exh. cat., Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago 1986, pl.63). He also began to make use of fragments of wood in such barrier works as ‘Untitled’, 1982, in which pieces of stone, wood, plaster casts and found objects including bed springs, an oil lamp and musical instruments, were combined to partially block two window frames (repr. ibid., pl.65).

The diagonal arrangement of T04937 relates to two particular barrier installations, both executed entirely in wood. In the first, ‘Untitled’, 1983 (repr. ibid., pl.68), Kounellis placed flat pieces of wood of differing lengths diagonally across the upper left-hand part of an arched window frame. As in T04937, the pieces did not fit closely together, but were arranged irregularly with gaps at intervals. He made a second similar work in 1985 for an exhibition organised by the Musée d'art contemporain, Bordeaux, and installed in the medieval Entrepôt Lainé building (repr. ibid., pl.111 in col.; see also Jannis Kounellis: Oeuvres de 1983 à 1985, exh. cat., Musée d'art contemporain, Bordeaux 1985, figs. 60, 63, 65).

Barbara Catoir has discussed the symbiotic relationship between Kounellis's sculpture and his works on paper (‘Ein Gesang auf Rom: Die inszenierte Zeichnung des Jannis Kounellis’ in Jannis Kounellis: Frammenti di memoria, exh. cat., Kestner-Gesellschaft, Hanover 1991, pp.20–1). She suggests that the drawings can be regarded as interventions in specific spaces in much the same way as his three-dimensional works and that the artist somehow bridges the gap between the two media. Although the artist has confirmed that T04937 does not relate specifically to any other drawings, certain characteristics are shared by T04037 and drawings executed during the same period. The Hanover catalogue reproduces a number of these drawings in which different degrees of spatial depth are suggested by overlapping areas of grey paint with darker squares and rectangles of dense black paint (nos.115, 116, 118, all repr. in col.). In others, the spatial play is further complicated by the artist's use of collage (nos.117, 120, both repr. in col.). In another group of drawings the artist constructed the sketchy perspective of room settings in much the same way as in T04937 (nos.113, 123, 124, 125, all repr. in col.). The resemblance of these drawings to stage sets is no accident. Speaking of his work in 1979, the artist stated: ‘One needs to consider that the gallery is a dramatic, theatrical cavity ... my work is not surrealistic, the effect is theatrical, it is Baroque’ (untitled interview, trans. Michelle Coudray, View, vol.1, no.10, March 1979, p.17).

The artist has approved this entry.

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996