Jannis Kounellis



Not on display

Jannis Kounellis 1936–2017
Steel, carpets, 2 hooks, coat and hat
Display dimensions variable
ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland
ARTIST ROOMS Acquired jointly with the National Galleries of Scotland through The d'Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008


This installation consists of over thirty crucifixes made out of rusty steel girders bolted together, with over one hundred Turkish carpets and kilims (woven rugs) covering the floor beneath. A hat and coat also hang at one corner of the room. Each crucifix sits on its side at a thirty-degree angle to the floor, resting on the tip of its longer arm, the tip of one of its shorter arms and a third supporting girder jutting out from the back. The crosses are arranged in two rows in an overlapping formation so that the whole installation resembles a complex and dense architectural construction. The rugs beneath the crosses are old, worn and multi-coloured, though dark red predominates. They form a large rectangle and overlap so that no area of floor is visible beneath the crosses. At one end of the structure two meat hooks hang from two holes in one of the girders. From these hooks are hung a grey herringbone tweed overcoat and a black moleskin trilby hat. The dimensions of the installation vary depending on the space available, but the work usually stretches to about twenty metres in length by seven or eight metres wide.

This work was originally created for the exhibition Jannis Kounellis held at Modern Art Oxford in 2004–5, where it was installed on the upper floor of the Gallery, taking up almost the entire space, with part of it projecting out through one of the doors. Kounellis had the crucifixes fabricated in Italy, which is also where he sourced the carpets.

Kounellis has described this work as ‘a clash of civilisations; a meeting of technology and spirituality’ (quoted in Cotter and Nairne 2004, p.6). This neatly captures some of the disparate references the work makes: the steel girders recall industry, construction, railway sidings and battle lines, while at the same time referencing the falling cross of Christ’s passion, or perhaps the Stations of the Cross, part of Western iconographic tradition. The Turkish carpets and kilims, on the other hand, suggest an Eastern perspective, recalling a range of factors from storytelling and exchange to homeliness and comfort. Whereas the steel girders are industrially made, the carpets are handcrafted, forming yet another opposition or ‘clash’ within the work. The curators of the exhibition at Modern Art Oxford, Suzanne Cotter and Andrew Nairne, also compared the structure to ‘the lines of a futurist painting’, with all the references to speed, industry and energy that such an association might suggest (Cotter and Nairne 2004, p.6).

The coat and hat have been a reoccurring motif in Kounellis’s work since the mid 1970s, and act here as a sort of signature. The vestments are dwarfed by the heavy metallic beams, adding a human scale to the work, but also suggesting the absence of the figure who might have left them behind.

Shortly after this work was shown at Modern Art Oxford it was on display in the sculpture court of Edinburgh College of Art as part of an exhibition of Kounellis’s work organised by the National Galleries of Scotland. It was acquired by ARTIST ROOMS in 2008 and has subsequently been seen in other spaces around the United Kingdom.

Further reading
Suzanne Cotter and Andrew Nairne, Jannis Kounellis, exhibition catalogue, Modern Art Oxford, Oxford 2004, p.6, reproduced pp.49–56.
Angela Schneider (ed.), Jannis Kounellis in the Neue Nationalgalerie, exhibition catalogue, Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin 2007, reproduced p.189.
Marc Scheps, Jannis Kounellis: XXII Stations on an Odyssey 1969–2010, Munich 2010, p.337, reproduced p.337.

Ruth Burgon
The University of Edinburgh
October 2014

The University of Edinburgh is a research partner of ARTIST ROOMS.

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Online caption

Kounellis’s recent installations respond to the current cultural and political climate. Describing this piece as “a clash of civilisations; a meeting of technology and spirituality”, his organisation of rigid steel crucifixes upon traditionally woven Turkish carpets emphasises the contrast between industrially-made products and unique craftwork, Eastern traditions and Western ritual. While the rhythmic pattern of the textiles brings together these conflicting elements, a single tweed overcoat and trilby hat hang enigmatically at one end. Appearing like strangely dislocated fragments of a more coherent whole, Kounellis calls into question the position of the individual in relation to our wider society.

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