The wide-ranging work of artist Jannis Kounellis (Greece, 1936–2017) is the subject of this major exhibition organized by the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, and Museo Jumex, Mexico City. This presentation is the first retrospective to be presented in North America in more than 35 years.
Kounellis played a central role in the Italian Arte Povera movement of the 1960s and 1970s, and has had a broad influence on subsequent generations of artists around the world. The exhibition includes some 50 works and offers the most comprehensive assessment of his career to date. Assembled with the full cooperation of the artist’s estate and featuring a host of international loans, the presentation revisits Kounellis’s innovative practice through key stages of his career over five decades, examining both iconic works and pieces rarely or never-before seen.
Though his art is mostly defined by sculpture, installation, and performance, Kounellis nonetheless referred to his works as paintings, even as his art has sought to break down and transcend the medium’s boundaries. “Everything I do is painting, even if I don’t touch a brush,” he said. “I tell my truth as a painter.” The exhibition Jannis Kounellis in Six Acts and its accompanying catalogue present the artist in a way he wanted to be seen—through a consideration of his work as an expansive and deep analysis of painting as a medium.
Foregrounding the artist’s innovative use of materials, the exhibition is presented in six thematic sections that consider key developments and themes in Kounellis’s practice. Included are examples from his iconic Alphabet series (1959–1961), featuring large works on canvas or paper depicting letters, signs, and symbols. Another section highlights major works made from accumulations of organic materials such as wool, seeds, stones, and burlap fabric. A third part explores hybrid works combining painting with performance, which played a major role in the artist’s production of the mid-1970s.
Also featured are sculptural projects that show Kounellis’s deep relationship to history through his poetic use of found items—fragments of classical sculpture, furniture, and objects or natural materials—presented in carefully composed groupings. The exhibition culminates with several large-scale installations based on experiences of memory and the senses.
Jannis Kounellis in Six Acts is accompanied by a major publication, the first comprehensive assessment of the artist’s work to be assembled by a US museum. The richly illustrated volume, which contains many never-published archival materials, is produced by the Walker’s award-winning design studio. The catalogue features essays by exhibition curators Vincenzo de Bellis, curator and associate director of programs, Visual Arts, Walker Art Center; and Kit Hammonds, chief curator at Museo Jumex, Mexico City; Ara H. Merjian, professor of Italian Studies at New York University; and Claire Gilman, chief curator at the Drawing Center, New York; as well as a selection of the artist’s writings, selected by Archivio Kounellis president Michelle Coudray and edited by Walker curatorial assistant William Hernández Luege.
Vincenzo de Bellis, curator and associate director of programs, Visual Arts, Walker Art Center; and Kit Hammonds, chief curator at Museo Jumex, Mexico City; with William Hernández Luege, curatorial assistant, Visual Arts, Walker Art Center
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis: October 14, 2022–February 26, 2023
Museo Jumex, Mexico City: April 1–September 17, 2023