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Jannis Kounellis

Galerie Karsten Greve Paris

May 10 - July 30, 2016
Opening: Tuesday, May 10, 2016, 6 - 8 pm
With this exhibition Galerie Karsten Greve Paris is honoured to pay tribute to one of the major figures of art of the 20th and 21st centuries. Presenting around ten works created between 1963 and 2010, the exhibition offers a journey through the work of Jannis Kounellis, where the material metamorphosis corresponds to the range of the ongoing journey that has been travelled. Continuing a collaboration that dates back more than thirty years, during its 80th anniversary Galerie Karsten Greve is dedicating an exhibition to Jannis Kounellis, the poor painter ‘par excellence’, who has succeeded in bringing painting out of the frame.
Jannis Kounellis was twenty when he left his native Greece and enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome. It was 1956: Italy had survived the initial hardships of the post-war period and was preparing years of innovation, among them artistic. Although the creative environment of the time was mainly characterized by informal art, Jannis Kounellis kept his distance vis-à-vis this abstract and gestural tendency. In the face of a historical period of hesitation, hope, but also disenchantment, Jannis Kounellis was guided by the certainty that the vast, tragic, ponderous and wonderful classical cultural heritage is useful. And that it is useful not only for the present but also to shape the future. An admirer of Italian art and ‘the inevitable drama’, which for him is the manifestation of the Catholic anchor of Italian culture, Jannis Kounellis thus chooses the side of Greater Greece to deploy his plastic dialogue.
The Alphabet of Kounellis, his first solo exhibition, was held in Rome in 1960 at the Galleria La Tartaruga. At that time Kounellis was still a student and painted signs from the cityscape and road signs: hanging fabrics directly on the walls of his apartment, he created a fragmented and personal alphabet made of letters, arrows and other symbols that mark and create the pictorial space. By seizing this urban language, Kounellis seems to refer to the first meaning of the polis, the heart of public life that saw the birth of thought: since art, too, is a public affair.
Another great cradle of civilization, the sea is also present in the works of the 1960's. Pireo (1963), bearing the name of the Athens port where Jannis Kounellis was born, metaphorically evokes the question of the fate of classical cultural heritage, this sun that has just risen or may be about to set. Untitled (1964), a work on canvas created the following year, testifies to the role of rhythm and space, which would lead to the scenic installations of the 1970s.
The work Untitled (1968) was produced a year after the Arte Povera exhibition organized by Germano Celant in Genoa: it was thus that the critic called poor art, referring to this generation whose works were characterized by the simplicity of the materials used. The language of Jannis Kounellis, but also that of Giovanni Anselmo, Giuseppe Penone, Mario Merz, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Gilberto Zorio and other protagonists of this trend, does indeed strive to cancel the gap between artistic creation and everyday life. The phrase ‘nature and culture’ was then no longer a dichotomy but finally became a partnership. Wool, rope and wood - materials that are found in the works of 2000 and 2004 - testify to this return to modest life, to harbour or village life, and to working tools.
Both in their own sense and in the figurative, the themes of origin, exile and belonging pervade the work of Jannis Kounellis. Consisting of a military hospital bed, Untitled (2010) is particularly explicit of this. Wool comforters, well known to those who have done military service, cover a steel body that is sharp and cold. Both anonymous and universal, this supine shape takes us back to one of the most current and complex issues of our day; that of asylum, flight and shelter. Having highlighted the risks of a society fascinated by consumption for over 50 years, the work of Jannis Kounellis once again confirms its astonishing actuality.
Jannis Kounellis was born in Piraeus, Athens, in 1936. In 1956 he moved to Rome where he enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts and studied under Toti Scialoja. The Roman gallery La Tartaruga gave him his first exhibition in 1960. As a participant in the Arte Povera group exhibition organized by Germano Celant in Genoa in 1967, Jannis Kounellis was quickly considered one of the major representatives of this artistic movement. The year 1969 marked a turning point in his work with the exhibition at the gallery Attico, where horses were attached to the walls of an exhibition room, and where apart from the animals, their neighing, sounds and smells were also present. His works were exhibited for the first time at the Venice Biennale and Documenta in Kassel in 1972, the same year as his first exhibition in the United States, in New York. Solo exhibitions dedicated to Jannis Kounellis have taken place in the most important international institutions like the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid, the Kunsthalle Hamburg, the National Gallery of Modern Art in Rome, the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin and the Museum of Contemporary Art Donnaregina in Naples. More recently, the Paris Mint devoted a solo exhibition to Jannis Kounellis, whose only work from a gallery was loaned by Galerie Karsten Greve.

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