The wide-ranging work of artist Jannis Kounellis (Greece, 1936–2017) is the subject of this major Walker-organized exhibition, the first retrospective to be presented in the United States in more than 35 years.
Kounellis played a central role in the Italian Arte Povera movement of the 1960s and early 1970s, and has had a broad influence on subsequent generations of artists over five decades. The exhibition, which includes some 50 works, offers the most comprehensive assessment of his career to date. Assembled with the full cooperation with the artist’s estate and featuring a host of international loans, the presentation revisits Kounellis’s innovative practice through key stages of his career, 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 five thematic sections that consider key developments and themes in Kounellis’s practice. Works featured include examples from his iconic Alphabet series (1959–1961)—large works on canvas or paper depicting letters, signs, and symbols. Another section features major works made from accumulations of organic materials such as as wool, seeds, stones, and burlap fabric. A third section explores hybrid works combining painting with performance, which played a major role in the artist’s production of the mid-1970s. Also included 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 assembled 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 designed by the Walker’s award-winning design studio. The catalogue features essays by exhibition curator Vincenzo de Bellis; Ara H. Merjian, professor of Italian Studies at New York University; Claire Gilman, chief curator at the Drawing Center, New York; and Kit Hammonds, chief curator at Museo Jumex, Mexico City; as well as a selection of the artist’s writings, edited by Walker curatorial assistant William Hernández Luege.
Vincenzo de Bellis, curator and associate director of programs, Visual Arts; with William Hernández Luege, curatorial assistant
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