Jannis Kounellis

Untitled (Coffee)


Not on display

Jannis Kounellis 1936–2017
Metal, glass, etching on paper, coffee beans and lead
Displayed: 653 × 455 × 77 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 (Coffee) 1989–91 is a wall-mounted work consisting of a rectangular glass-fronted box half-filled with coffee beans. The back panel of this steel box is mounted with off-white paper to which a small sheet of lead is affixed at the top left-hand corner. Two dark lines are etched from the centre of the lead, marking a diagonal course downwards to the right until they meet the slope of the coffee beans. 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 (Coffee) is one of these multiples, produced in an edition of twenty-five.

Untitled (Coffee) could be seen as a small version of the larger work Untitled 1989 (Nationalgalerie, Berlin), which consists of a wall of coffee between two panes of glass. The lines printed on the lithograph in this work, almost directly quote one of the arched hooks in Untitled 1989. Coffee is an important material in much of Kounellis’s work, largely for its olfactory properties. He notes: ‘I have often used smell, an element missing in paintings that became something represented in painting. But for me, the smell of coffee, this is painting, because it’s a reality, but it’s also an idea of travelling, an idea of adventure.’ (Quoted in Baker, p.42.) Such implications are also present in another work by Kounellis, Untitled 1969 (Tate AR00069), in which one of the seven burlap sacks is full of coffee beans, allowing the smell to permeate the gallery space.

Curator Dieter Roelstraete has argued that Kounellis uses coffee because its distinct smell provides immediate access to a rich range of associations, both personal, in the mind of the viewer, and cultural, in a more symbolic sense. Roelstraete writes:

The symbolic associations involved the notion of meeting, the exchange of experiences around a table set with coffee and sweets; the small, daily epic of giving and taking, the convivial gesture; the central liturgy in the conversational culture of coffee houses that was passed to Europe from the Levant in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
(Roelstraete 2002, p.15.)

The lead element of the panel also gestures to other works by Kounellis such as Untitled 1968–90 (Tate AR00068) as well as Untitled 1988 (Bernier/Eliades). The artist has described the metal sheets used in his work as ‘sheets of paper’, suggesting that he considers it to be a backdrop or support from which to build up the work (Roelstraete 2002, p.16). However, unlike other larger scale works, in Untitled (Coffee) the lead sits on top of a paper support, acting more like a quotation of earlier works – a theme that runs through many of the works in the series of multiples (see Untitled (Knife and Train) 2002 (Tate AR00074) and Untitled (Sack with Z) 2001 (Tate AR00583)).

Further reading
Dieter Roelstraete, Kounellis, exhibition catalogue, Stedelijk Museum Voor Actuele Kunst, Gent 2002.
Stephen Bann, Jannis Kounellis, London 2003.
Kenneth Baker, ‘Jannis Kounellis’, Art and Auction, vol.32, no.5, January 2009.

Ruth Burgon
University of Edinburgh
January 2015

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

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