Jannis Kounellis



Jannis Kounellis 1936–2017
Wood and wool
Displayed: 2500 × 2810 × 450 mm
Purchased 1996


Untitled comprises two upright wooden posts that hold four cross bars loosely wrapped with wool. Some of the wool is dyed in delicate shades of light blue. While the wool appears uncarded and untamed, it has been arranged on the cross bars in such a way as to suggest a harmonious coming together of a natural material and human work. The work is displayed leaning at an angle against a wall.

The piece is typical of Kounellis' work of the late 1960s. At this time Kounellis, who was living in Rome and was one of the leading figures in the Arte Povera movement, had abandoned painting as a medium and had embraced an art made of everyday materials. He used wool, coal, iron, stones, earth, cacti, wood and even flames and live animals (in two controversial untitled works, exhibited respectively in the Galleria L'Attico, Rome, in 1967 and 1969, he used his own pet parrot and twelve horses).

Some writers have suggested that Kounellis' choice of materials relate to the mythology and trading life of Ancient Greeks (Kounellis left his native Greece in 1956). Corinna Criticos has also noted that materials such as coal, fire, wood and horses were among the fundamental resources of the Middle Ages. She wrote: 'Kounellis was fascinated with this period and with the history of civilisation in general, and it is tempting to view his work as suggesting the idea of a cyclical rather than a linear perception of progress' (Corinna Criticos, 'Reading Arte Povera', Zero to Infinity: Arte Povera 1962-1972, exhibition catalogue, Tate Modern, London 2001, p.80).

Another, possibly parallel, explanation for Kounellis's use of natural, often raw materials is given by the critic Germano Celant, who wrote that in the late 1960s the artist moved from the 'written language' of art to a physical language, 'to the concrete encounter, from the "said" to the "unsaid"'. Through the use of 'the slang of natural, organic matter', the communication between viewer and art was thought to be more direct (Germano Celant, 'Jannis Kounellis', Domus, no.515, October 1972, p.55).

Prior to the work's inclusion in the exhibition Zero to Infinity: Arte Povera 1962-1972, held at Tate Modern in 2001, the artist reworked the piece, removing some of the original wool that had become matted and replacing it with fresh wool. He explained to curators at Tate that he made the work partly in response to Jackson Pollock's Blue Poles: Number 11, 1952, 1952 (National Gallery of Australia, Canberra). The upright posts correspond to the diagonal poles of Pollock's painting while the blue and white wool is teased out to mimic the dripped paint.

Further reading:

Kounellis, exhibition catalogue, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid 1996, reproduced p.35

Giorgia Bottinelli
November 2001

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Display caption

This work was made at the time of Kounellis’s first involvement with arte povera. The carefully dyed but loosely wrapped hanks of uncarded wool epitomise Kounellis’s choice of simple materials at this time. Linked with arte povera’s exploration of basic media, they also suggest Kounellis’s attraction to earlier civilisations. Although he had abandoned painting at this stage in his career, he later suggested that the structure of this work had been partly inspired by Jackson Pollock, with the hanging wool teased out to mimic dripped paint.

Gallery label, October 2013

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