Jannis Kounellis

Untitled (Hair)


Not on display

Jannis Kounellis 1936–2017
Metal, glass and hair
Object: 652 × 450 × 140 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 (Hair) 2004 is a wall-mounted work that consists of a portrait-orientated steel box in which four hanks of long, black human hair are arranged. The shallow, glass-fronted box is displayed upright on the wall and contains a flat steel panel into which have been punched eight holes in two columns – one set of four towards the left side of the panel and the other set of four towards the right. The hanks of hair have been threaded through these holes so that they hang horizontally across the steel panel, appearing roughly parallel to one another in four curved lines.

From 1989 to 2005 Jannis 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 (Hair) is one of these multiples, and is number seventeen in an edition of twenty-five.

The human hair motif in Untitled (Hair) was among those that Kounellis took from his earlier works, such as Untitled 1969 (Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris), in which a central braid of blonde hair falls from two holes in a steel panel. While long hair could have connotations of beauty and grooming, when separated from the body it also has an uncanny and perhaps abject quality, recalling the way it was used by the surrealists in works such as Mimi Parent’s Masculin-Féminin 1959 (see Mimi Parent and other artists, Boîte alerte 1959, Tate T07621).

Art historian Jean-Christophe Ammann has written that the disembodiment of the braid in Kounellis’s work ‘implies that it has been cut off, implies pain, punishment, separation; refers to drama, a rite of passage; of consequences based on a burdensome, always present, but intangible, framework of conventions and traditions’ (quoted in Scheps 2010, p.42.) These sinister undertones recall the fate of the inmates of jails or concentration camps whose hair is forcibly removed, as well as the biblical story in which Delilah rids Samson of his strength by cutting off his hair. Such uneasy undercurrents are present in Untitled (Hair), in which the encased hanks, far from being locks retained as keepsakes, seem like fetishised trophies of the one from whom they were taken.

Further reading
Stephen Bann, Jannis Kounellis, London 2003.
Marc Scheps, Jannis Kounellis: XXII Stations on an Odyssey 1969–2010, Munich 2010.

Ruth Burgon
The University of Edinburgh
January 2015

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

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