Jannis Kounellis

Untitled (Scissors)


Not on display

Jannis Kounellis 1936–2017
Metal, glass and scissors
Object: 650 × 449 × 138 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 (Scissors) 2004 is a wall-mounted work consisting of a portrait-orientated rectangular box made of folded and welded sheet steel with a glass front. In the lower third of the box is a pile of eighteen pairs of chromed tailor’s scissors. The scissors are arranged in two fairly even stacks, with their handles facing towards the outer edges of the box, though a couple of pairs seem to have tumbled from one of the piles. In the upper part of the box a sheet of deep red handmade glass is fixed in place on a metal shelf above the scissors. The red glass takes up most of the upper two thirds of the box and appears flecked and uneven. 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 (Scissors) is one of these multiples, and is number two of an edition of twenty-five.

Kounellis began to include everyday objects in his work in the 1960s, an approach associated with arte povera (‘poor art’), an Italian art movement defined by the critic Germano Celant in 1967. This use of materials has remained an important part of the artist’s practice. Kounellis frequently brings together seemingly disparate items, seeking to exploit the suggestions that are made in unlikely juxtapositions. In Untitled (Scissors), the crimson of the glass holds multiple symbolic connotations from passion and seduction to danger and blood. The scissors in the lower section of the work might give credence to the latter set of connotations, their sharp blades suggesting potential violence. Made the same year as Untitled (Sewing Machine) 2004 (Tate AR00585), Untitled (Scissors) might also suggest the work of the tailor or seamstress. Ultimately the narrative of this work remains open, subject to the ambiguous interplay between the connotations of its component parts.

Kounellis has used glass elsewhere in his oeuvre. In Coal Sculpture with Wall of Coloured Glass 1990–2005 (Tate AR00070), for example, natural lumps of coloured glass are used, threaded in vertical lines on wires. This use of glass as a raw material contrasts with its production into a pane here in Untitled (Scissors), hinting at the artist’s interest in industry and manufacture.

Further reading
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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