Occupation: Painter; Sculptor
Movement: German Symbolism; Expressionism; Arte Povera
Education: Academy of Fine Arts, Munich; e Accademia di Belle Arti in Rome
Jannis Kounellis does not title his works.
Jannis Kounellis in a Greek sculptor and performance artist who is associated with the Arte Povera movement. Kounellis currently works and lives in Rome.
Jannis Kounellis was born in Piraeus in Greece in 1936. For the first 20 years of his life, which included World War I and the Greek Civil War Kounellis remained in Greece. During this time he studies at the Art College in Athens. In 1956, Kounellis moved to Rome where he enrolled at the Accademia di Belle Arti. Kounellis held his first exhibition while he was still a student at the Galleria la Tartaruga in Rome in 1960.
Through most of the 1960s, Kounellis concentrated on his paintings, during his early years he was greatly influenced by Lucio Fontana, Alberto Burri, Franz Kline and Jackson Pollock. However as time went by Kounellis’s art began to become more sculptural. During the late 1960s, the artist starting using live animals in his artwork, one of his best known works is when he installed eleven live horses as part of his work inside a gallery. It was during this time that Kounellis started questioning the sterile environment of the gallery and started adding performative elements to his work. Kounellis also started including unconventional materials such as door and window frames and coat racks into his work.
In 1967 Kounellis was part of an influential group exhibition called Arte Povera e IM Spazio at the Galleria La Bertesca in Genoa. The curator of the exhibition Germano Celant, had coined the name Arte Povera to denote the humble origins of the materials that Kounellis and his contemporaries were using, the use of such materials categorized this form of art as anti-elitist. Kounellis went on to exhibit with the Arte Povera movement on several group shows through out his life.
Through the 1970s and 1980s Kounellis continued to use unconventional materials that included shelving units, trolleys, smoke, coal, coffee grounds and various other elements borrowed from economics, transportation and commerce. These elements speak with a rich history and bring together cultural stories of the past.
Kounellis’s work transformed the space of the gallery into a stage, where there was a constant interplay between real life and fiction. The audience became a part of the performance as Kounellis continuously pushed the boundaries between the observer and the observed.
From the 2000s, onwards Kounellis’s vocabulary has become more architectural in style. Kounelli has started creating labyrinths within the gallery space that manipulate the audience vision and experience.
Jannis Kounellis currently lives and works in Rome.
Life and Legacy
Jannis Kounellis has been honored with various prestigious exhibitions in some of the world’s best museums and galleries. His art pushed and is still pushing the outer limits of what can and should be considered art. A retrospective of the artists work was held at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago in 1986 and the exhibition later traveled to Musée d’Art Contemporain in Montreal.
1936 - Born in Greece
Early 1950s Art College, Athens
1956 - Accademia di Belle Arti, Rome
1960 - Galleria la Tartaruga, Rome
1967, 1969 - Paris Biennale
1972, 1977, 1982 - Documenta
1972, 1976, 1978, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1993 - Venice Biennale
1996 - Kounellis, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain
2002 - Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, Rome
2005 - Italian Art 1950-1970. Masterpieces from the Farnesina Collection, National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi, India
2008 - Biennale of Sydney
2009 - Tate Modern, London
2011 - Kounellis feu / contre-feu Klein, Galerie Lelong, Paris
2013 - Un dialogo tra due opere, with Bizhan Bassiri, Biblioteca Angelica, Rome, Italy
2014 - On the road / En el camino / No camiño, Palacio de Gelmírez, Sanstiago de Compostella, Spain
MUSEUMS / COLLECTIONS
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Centre Pompidou, Paris
Tate Gallery, London
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid
National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh
Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
Lehmbruck Museum, Germany
Books / publications
“Jannis Kounellis: XXII Stations on an Odyssey 1969-2010” by Marc Scheps