Jannis Kounellis — Early Paintings



Jannis Kounellis
Early Paintings

Past: September 3 → October 8, 2011

Jannis kounellis crop grid Jannis Kounellis Une entrée passionnante dans l’œuvre Jannis Kounellis qui impose, dès le début de sa carrière, la vision d’un art dépassant les val... 2 - Bien Critique

For the first time, the Karsten Greve Gallery is pleased to present an exhibition devoted to paintings of Jannis Kounellis from the years 1959-1964.

On these early canvasses, the artist executes mathematical symbols, numbers and letters in the form of large lines, painted with a brush and applied by stencil, that create words, or just signs. In opposition to the language of subjective gesture “in the style of Pollock”, he orients himself towards a form of popular expression that is common and impersonal, using symbols derived very often from daily life, such as road or shop signs. He conceives symbols as autonomous entities through their de-contextualisation and unaccustomed positioning allowing them to float and mix up on a vast background of light tones of various nuances ranging from beige to pastel, that at times suggest landscapes. In this manner, Kounellis dares a free interpretation of content and even of space. Creating different levels of spatial depth through the technique of collage, overlapping, painting and repainting the symbols, but also by a tendency to exceed the contours of the painting by a certain rhythm in the composition and animated surface, he opens the way to the spectator’s space. He also often integrated the painting into a performance, singing the letters and numbers in front of an audience, using his canvasses like a coat; a second skin to again transform them like an alchemist into paintings.

In this first corpus of mature works, the Greek artist, who lives in Rome, shows the precursory signs of his key attachment to the revolutionary movement Arte Povera, the first important Italian movement after 1945. Stifled in a cultural context that was strongly anchored in and influenced by Antiquity and academia and distinguishing itself from American Abstract Expressionism and the Informal European movement, Arte Povera advocated total liberation from the grandeur and elitism of art. In practice it involved banning all traditionally precious and prestigious supports, genres and materials of figurative art and to no longer refer to reality but to work with it directly. Creating situations rather than objects, Kounellis used odours, sounds and ‘poor’ materials like wool, coal, iron, clay, plants, wood, flame or living animals. The roots of this desire to trouble and upset the spectator’s expectations in the face of a very familiar genre is astonishingly present in the artist’s first paintings, throwing into question the most classic form of art, painting, right from the beginning.

Born in 1936 in Piraeus in Greece, Jannis Kounellis moved to Rome in 1956, where he still lives and works today. Right from the end of the 1960’s, his works were exhibited in numerous one-man shows and collectives around the world like the National Gallery in Berlin and the Kunstmuseum in Liechtenstein. His works are presented in numerous international public collections, like the National Museums of Berlin, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Castello di Rivoli in Turin, as well as prestigious private collections.

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The artist

  • Jannis Kounellis