Jannis Kounellis



Not on display

Jannis Kounellis 1936–2017
Mixed media
Object: 1001 × 709 × 157 mm
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


Untitled 2005 is a wall-mounted glass-fronted rectangular steel box. The box is lined with a monochrome lithograph, overlaid by a central metal ‘V’ shape, the extremities of which touch the top and bottom of the box. The lithograph, printed on handmade white paper, features a black paint splash. The ‘V’ is made of two I-beams, welded together at the lower point and bolted in position to the back of the metal box. From 1989 to 2005 Kounellis made a series of works produced in editions, described as multiples, in which he incorporated elements drawn from the vocabulary of his earlier practice. Untitled 2005 is one of these multiples, and is number eleven of an edition of twenty-five.

The splattered paint in this work makes an implicit reference to the abstract expressionist painting style of Jackson Pollock, which, for Kounellis, represents an impassioned search for identity. He says:

I love Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline. I love that generation, because it is an epic generation, a generation that built a space, or rather that invented American space, ample and broad, far from the painterly tonalities, a surface that, in the best of cases was lived with determination and radicalism. It is a generation that also eliminated the concept of the centre of painting.
(Quoted in Bellini 2007, pp.112–13.)

In Untitled 2005 the splattered paint is an expressionistic gesture, reminding the viewer of the hand of the artist who created it, as with paintings by Pollock and Kline. Kounellis’s reference to this previous generation of Western male artists suggests that he sees himself inheriting something of their ‘epic’ approach to space and material. However, the fact that this work is one of an edition could undercut the idea of the unique expressive gesture, since the paint splatter is reproduced in each version of the work.

The ‘V’ symbol in Untitled 2005 might make reference to the hand gesture formed between the index and middle fingers, standing for victory or peace. It could also allude to Vulcan, the Roman god of fire, its welded joint referencing the association of the god with blacksmithing and metalwork. Kounellis obliquely references Greek and Roman mythology in much of his work, often as a gesture to his cultural inheritance as an Italian artist of Greek descent.

In recalling the mythic heroism of the male-dominated abstract expressionist generation and the tough masculine associations of the ‘V’ symbol, this work might be read as a statement of heroic masculinity. However, as with many of Kounellis’s works, it is untitled, meaning that such specific readings remain only speculative. As art historian Stephen Bann notes, ‘Kounellis’s insistence on the use of the term “Untitled” … denotes among other things a determination not to foreclose interpretation with crude literary or anecdotal readings’ (Bann 2003, p.54).

Further reading
Stephen Bann, Jannis Kounellis, London 2003.
Andrea Bellini, ‘Jannis Kounellis: Man and Myth’, Flash Art, no.40, March/April 2007, pp.112–15.

Ruth Burgon
University of Edinburgh
April 2015

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

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