Jannis Kounellis



Not on display

Jannis Kounellis 1936–2017
Original title
Senza titolo
Charcoal, paper, arrows and stuffed birds
Displayed: 3600 × 5000 mm
Purchased 1983

Catalogue entry

T03796 Untitled 1979

Wall drawing, two impaled stuffed birds and five charcoal drawings on paper; height of birds 25 (63) and 17 (43), dimensions of drawings each 27 3/4 × 39 1/4 (70.3 × 100); overall dimensions variable
Not inscribed
Purchased from Galleria Christian Stein, Turin (Grant-in-Aid) 1983
Exh: Jannis Kounellis, Galleria Christian Stein, Turin, October–November 1979 (no catalogue); Kounellis, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris, April–June 1980 (not listed in catalogue, repr. in col.(30)); Jannis Kounellis, Musei Comunali Sale d'Arte Contemporanea, Rimini, June–September 1983 (117, repr.); New Art at the Tate Gallery 1983, September–October 1983 (not numbered in catalogue, repr. p.12 as ‘View of Streets drawn in charcoal on wall with 2 crows and 5 drawings on adjacent wall’)
Lit: Giuseppe Risso ‘Jannis Kounellis a Torino’ Domus, DCII, January 1980, p.53, repr. in col.; Dadamaino, ‘Jannis Kounellis, Christian Stein Turin’, Flash Art No.94–5, January/February 1980, p.59, repr.; Marlis Grüterich, ‘Jennis Kounellis, les pouvoirs de l'art’, Art Press XXXVII, May 1980, pp.14–15, repr. p.15; Identité Italienne, L'art en Italie depuis 1959, exhibition catalogue, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris, June–September 1981, p.608, repr.
Also repr: Kunstforum No.39, March 1980, p.35; ‘Jannis Kounellis’, exhibition catalogue, Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, 1982, pp.74–5, dated 1980; Tema Celeste, exhibition catalogue, Museo Civico d'Arte Contemporanea di Gibellina, Sicily, January 1983, p.68, as ‘Hotel Louisiane (III stanza) 1979’; Germano Celant, Arte Povera, Milan, 1985, p.201

This work was first exhibited as one part of a three part installation, referred to in contemporary reviews (erroneously, according to the artist) as ‘Hotel Louisiane’ or ‘Louisiana’. The individual sections of the work have been untitled in subsequent literature and Kounellis confirms that this is correct. (‘Hotel Louisiane’ was also the title of an earlier work by Kounellis, installed in a Rome hotel, the Albergo della Lunetta, the reference being to a hotel in Paris associated with the heyday of Existentialism, see pp.108 and 169 in the Rimini catalogue and p.56 in the Eindhoven catalogue, both cited above).

In its original site, T03796 was installed in the third of three intercommunicating rooms. The first room was empty and in the second, thirteen works on paper were placed around the room at the height of the cornice. These were described by the reviewer in Domus (op.cit.) as having been ‘sensitised’ with coal dust dissolved in glue, and their position as resembling metopes in a Doric frieze. The last room (containing T03796) was described by the reviewer as:

almost square, a small town is drawn on the far wall - profiles of houses-over which two stuffed ravens loom, transfixed with arrows. The scene, which overthrows traditional perspective planes, takes on a tri-dimensionality in its cross-reference to the invisible archer from whose bow the arrows flew (Domus, op.cit.).

When installed (on two adjacent walls) the work comprises an urban and industrial landscape with houses and smoking factory chimney, simply drawn in sharp perspective, in charcoal outline with the aid of a template. The drawing extends across the right angle separating the two walls. Above the drawn roof tops but below the cloud of smoke, two large stuffed birds (a jackdaw and a hooded crow) are impaled on arrows, which pin them to the wall; the attitudes of the birds suggest that they have just been shot and are about to fall to earth. At a right angle to the townscape, five drawings on paper are pinned to the wall in a vertical column. These carry simple images in outline of women's heads and landscapes which have been drawn by engraving lines with a sharp-ended instrument into the thick layers of black carbonised material. The drawings appear to confront the chimney from which the smoke billows.

Questioned about the significance of the imagery in this work (conversation with the compiler, 14 March 1986) the artist said that although the urban landscape is reminiscent of those in Northern Italy and the work was first shown in Turin, he had not intended any specific reference to that city but sought to portray an archetypal and imaginary nineteenth century townscape, hence the smoking chimney. The drawings on paper were also imaginary - he compared them to drawings made on the surface of the water or on a pond which last only for a second. The artist declined to comment on the specific significance of the birds but drew a comparison between the work and an earlier untitled work of 1975 (repr. in the Rimini catalogue, fig.119), where a fragmented classical plaster cast of Apollo is spread out on a table above which a ‘cloud’ of black hair billows out. Kounellis had also used the image of a chimney before, for example in ‘Untitled’ 1976–81 (Rimini fig.118) and frequently uses carbon or charcoal in his installations. He included a stuffed bird (again a crow) in an earlier installation of 1973 (Rimini fig.69). Elsewhere he has commented on his use of fire imagery as having to do with medieval legends, the suggestion of punishment and purification (in View I, no.10, California 1979).

In his catalogue essay for the Eindhoven exhibition (‘Fourth Story’, p.42), Rudi Fuchs suggests that for Kounellis the chimney in the post-industrial age can be seen as a museum or monument to the drama of the Industrial Revolution and that Kounellis uses it as an allegory of progress, and a ‘memento mori’. However the chimney ‘can burn ... can blow smoke and produce wonderful figures whirling in the black clouds. The chimney can be the furnace of creative invention, like the mind.’

In his catalogue essay for Rimini (op.cit., ‘L'urto e l'urlo’, p.21), Germano Celant suggests that the dead birds surmounting the work represent the end of freedom of the imagination.

When this work was first exhibited, a reviewer (in Flash Art, cited above) suggested that the smoke had multiple associations and many meanings in the context of the installation, ranging from the smoke of the crematorium to smoke as a metaphor for the unconscious. The reviewer stated that, according to the artist, the two birds represent:

the romantic aspect of this work, the unsuppressible, emotional ‘quid’ that goes hand in hand with creation.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986

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