Jannis Kounellis (Piraeus, 1936 – Rome, 2017)
One to the major players in the Arte Povera movement, Jannis Kounellis moved to Italy in 1956 from his native Greece. He first exhibited while still a student at the Academia di Belle Arti of Rome; he painted large monochrome canvases on which elementary signs stand out (letters, numbers and directional indicators).
From the very start he participated in a cultural debate that aspired to renewal of the visual language and to surpassing the limits of the ‘informal’ season in art.
In the mid-1960s, he began to go beyond the pictorial surface, producing his first installations, creations with a poetic intensity and power that envelop the spectator and express the fragmentation and alienation rampant in contemporary society.
Kounellis renounced association with any univocal style and elaborated works based on recognition of the public and collective value of the artwork as well as on the political commitment of the artist. Replete with references to the archaic world, to classical culture and to the history of art, his works often intimate a sense of lost synthesis and unitariness.
Over the course of his career, the artist built up a hybrid vocabulary that disallows the presumed purity of the medium, sculptural or pictorial as it may be, and implies use of materials not necessarily considered properly ‘of art’, such as everyday objects (jute sacks, chairs, cots), natural elements (coffee, stone, fire) and industrial materials (iron, coal) or living organisms (animals and occasionally people), as in his famous 1969 work in which he presented twelve live horses in the spaces of the L’Attico gallery in Rome.