Late Works by Jannis Kounellis

Exhibition Review

  • "Jannis Kounellis, Objects"

  • Carolina Nitsch Project Room, New York
  • 10 Jan 2018 - 24 Feb 2018

Jannis Kounellis, Untitled (Shoes) (2006), steel and glass case, leather shoes, Murano glass, wire, lithograph on paper, 77 x 57.5 x 18 cm. Edition of 25 variants. Published by Lelong Editions, Paris. Image courtesy Carolina Nitsch, New York.

Printmaking and found objects came together to form visually compelling juxtapositions in “Jannis Kounellis, Objects” at Carolina Nitsch Project Room. Kounellis, who died last year at the age of 80, was a key figure in the Arte Povera movement, best known for sculptures and installations that invoke the contemporary world of politics and things, industrial and natural, while conjuring experiences that border on the mystical. The 12 works on exhibit, created between 2003 and 2015, all adopt the same format: large, shallow, steel-framed glass boxes holding different arrangements of found objects and two-dimensional works—mostly lithographs but also paint on paper and pochoir on sandpaper. Produced in editions of 25 variants, these are among the many unconventional editions Kounellis produced throughout his life that feature manmade objects such as clothing and domestic items, and natural elements such as metals, coal and smoke. These late works are a continuation of the core concern of the artist’s career: the evocative and associative nature of objects. Highlighting the personal investment in objects, the show underscores the centrality of human experience in Kounellis’s oeuvre.

The use of found objects in, and as, art is a key characteristic of Arte Povera. It was not simply a statement against an ivory towered “high art” but an effort to shed light on the relationship between art and life, an investigation of our daily experience of the world.1 In Kounellis’s “objects,” the convergence of two- and three-dimensional materials engages the senses, imagination and emotion. The pairing of image and object always has a logic to it, but its nature changes from composition to composition, sending the mind down different avenues of physical and conceptual associations. Both Untitled (Shoes) (2006) and Untitled (V) (2005) use expressionist splats of black ink as backdrops, but the effects when combined with a minimalist welded-metal angle (V) or a quartet of leather oxfords inexplicably stuffed with Murano glass (Shoes) are entirely different.

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  1. Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, ed., Arte Povera (London: Phaidon, 1999), 20, 25. []