Jannis Kounellis

Untitled (Sewing Machine)


Not on display

Jannis Kounellis 1936–2017
Metal, glass, sewing machine and coat
Displayed: 705 × 498 × 210 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 (Sewing Machine) 2004 is a wall-mounted work consisting of a portrait-orientated rectangular steel box with a glass front. A steel shelf divides the vitrine, affixed diagonally going upwards from left to right. The shelf carries an old Singer sewing machine, while below the shelf is stuffed a folded black coat with blue lining. One of the buttons of the coat is visible, and on it can be seen an anchor decoration. 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 (Sewing Machine) is one of these multiples, and is number eleven of an edition of twenty-five.

In Untitled (Sewing Machine) the vitrine both contains and separates the coat and machine, with the division made even more striking by the raking angle of the steel shelf. As such, the work seems to play the symbolic connotations of the objects off against one another. For instance the two elements are both the mode and the result of production: the old coat could have been made on a machine similar to that which sits above it. But the juxtaposition of small-scale domestic sewing machine and pea coat associated with the navy, might also mark out the separation between paid work and unpaid domestic labour, as well as between the masculine and feminine.

Kounellis has used old sewing machines in many of his installations (see, for example, All or Nothing At All, exhibited at Cheim & Read, New York 2013), and in 1986–7 he exhibited in one of the old factories of the Singer Sewing Machine Company on West Jackson Boulevard in Chicago, as part of a multi-site exhibition in that city (see Jacob 1986). Such a location allowed Kounellis to exploit the connections between the factory and the industrial materials frequently found in his work. Indeed, the sewing machines in Kounellis’s installations contain connotations of production and industry. For curator Angela Schneider these sewing machines take on an anthropomorphic quality and ‘appear not so much as the technical instruments they in fact are, but rather as strange beings scurrying across the tables’ (Schneider 2007, p.37). In Untitled (Sewing Machine) one might read both machine and coat as stand-ins for human or animal counterparts. The coat has also been a recurrent motif in Kounellis’s work since the 1970s. Indeed it is often used by the artist as a kind of signature (see for example Untitled 2004, Tate AR00073).

Further reading
Mary Jane Jacob, Jannis Kounellis, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago 1986.
Stephen Bann, Jannis Kounellis, London 2003.
Angela Schneider (ed.), Jannis Kounellis in the Neue Nationalgalerie, exhibition catalogue, Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin 2007.

Ruth Burgon
University of Edinburgh
April 2015

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

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