Jannis Kounellis

Untitled (Hanging Knife)


Not on display

Jannis Kounellis 1936–2017
Metal, glass, etching on paper, hook and knife
Object: 653 × 452 × 75 mm, 1.5 kg
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 (Hanging Knife) 1991 consists of several objects arranged within a wall-mounted shallow box. The portrait-orientated box is made of galvanised steel and is glass-fronted. The back of the box is lined with a sheet of handmade paper on which there is an etching in black ink of a circle formed of many loosely drawn lines. The paper has two raw edges, at the sides, and two cut edges, at the top and bottom. It is pierced near the top, in the centre, by an S-shaped butcher’s hook. From this hook a sharp cook’s knife hangs down vertically by a hole in its red hardwood handle. The knife has a riveted steel blade with ROSTFREI etched on the reverse (facing the paper). 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 (Hanging Knife) is one of these multiples, and is number ten of an edition of twenty-five.

Kounellis uses knives throughout his work. In Untitled 1994 (Portalakis Collection, Athens), for example, four sharp knives are fixed to an iron panel with their blades facing outward. The knives threaten the onlooker, warding them away from the marked metal surface. In comparison Untitled (Hanging Knife) is less aggressive, with the blade of the knife behind glass and pointing downwards. However, the combination of sharp blade and piercing hook is nonetheless suggestive of violence.

The latent violence of the work is not only implied by these threatening objects, but also in the precariousness of their staging. Curator Dieter Roelstraete notes the prevalence of suspension in Kounellis’s practice, specifically with his monumental steel sculptures that hang from the ceiling, ‘their colossal weight being part of the precise reason why they should be hung: the heavier they are, the more important the act of hanging’ (Roelstraete 2002, p.27). Roelstraete suggests that there is violence in this act, since suspension of an object places it in a position of potential, so that one might imagine its destructive drop. In Untitled (Hanging Knife) such latent power is also suggested by the lines of the circular etching, which contain suggestions of a manic, energetic scrawl. These oscillating lines add a sense of mobility to the suspended knife, as well as focusing the viewer’s attention on the blade.

Further reading
Dieter Roelstraete, Kounellis, exhibition catalogue, Stedelijk Museum Voor Actuele Kunst, Gent 2002.
Stephen Bann, Jannis Kounellis, London 2003.

Ruth Burgon
University of Edinburgh
January 2015

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

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