Venice, Italy – Fondazione Prada is now presenting “Jannis Kounellis,” a retrospective dedicated to the Greek-Italian contemporary artist who passed away in 2017. Curated by Germano Celant, the exhibition will run through November 24, 2019, and it is the highlight at the Fondazione Prada’s Venetian venue in the historic palazzo of Ca’ Corner della Regina.
The ambitious exhibition brings together more than 60 works by the artist from 1959 to 2015, in collaboration with both Italian and international art museums and organizations. The show highlights crucial moments in the metamorphosis of Kounellis’ visual poetics, creating a dialogue and link between the work and the grand rooms of Ca’ Corner della Regina. Throughout his artistic career and research, Kounellis formed a personal but tragic relationship with history and culture. He also developed an intolerance for the dynamics of his present.
Some of the early works presented from the 1960s reproduce writings and signs from the streets of Rome at the time, which the artist later transferred to canvas, and deconstructed the language to showcase a fragmentation of reality. In the mid-’60s, the artist focused on natural subjects. However, by 1967, his work became more radical, embracing both concrete and natural elements, breaking away from the uniformity of his early work. This transition led from pictorial language to a physical interpretation of his work through the use of both organic and inorganic materials. Kounellis then proceeded to explore sound and began to incorporate dancers and musicians in his work. The artist also studied the power of smells, starting with the use of coffee, and then elements such as grappa.
Kounellis’ works and artistic collaborations paved the way for Arte Povera, dodging the exaltation of materials in support of an authentic form of visual expression and creative installations. Changing between a classical and radical practice, Kounellis created fundamental works that led to a dynamic and cultural exchange with the viewer. His art is intense and fluid, enveloping elements simultaneously natural and historical, physical and symbolic, with an emphasis on their mystical balance.
In 1967, the year of the “fire daisy,” the phenomenon of combustion started to appear in Kounellis’ work. According to alchemical tradition, gold can be found at the height of the mutation and the result of combustion. Kounellis began to use gold in his art, such as in the installation Untitled (Tragedia Civile) (1975).
In Kounellis’ work, smoke functions as proof of the transmutation of substances and the passage of time. Traces of soot on stones, walls, and canvases that identify some of his works from 1979 and 1980 symbolize a personal “return to painting.” During this time, he developed the industrial chimney motif. As fire signifies the possibility of a revolutionary intervention on reality, smoke and soot released from the industrial chimney exemplify dissolution and the end of every likely political and social activism through art.
Jannis Kounellis passed away in Rome on February 16, 2017, at the age of 80. – GM
Images courtesy of Fondazione Prada