Portrait of Jannis Kounellis, Galleria L’Attico, Rome 1972. Photo Claudio Abate
In coincidence with the start of the Venice Biennale, Fondazione Prada opens a retrospective dedicated to Jannis Kounellis starting on May the 11th. The venetian franchise at Ca’ Courier della Regina hosts the first major survey on the artist’s life and production since his death in 2017, curated by the superb italian curator Germano Celant. The exhibition follows the artistic career of Kounellis, in the hope of shedding a new light on his pioneering practice in the context of Arte Povera. Working alongside the Archivio Kounellis and featuring over 60 artworks, the exhibition reconstructs the artistic history of the master marked by several moments that were able to shape an innovative form of art that relates directly with the viewer.
Kounellis’s research explores new dimensions with the aim of overcoming the traditional painterly cannons, and to grow into a more radical approach that incorporates tangible and natural elements such as soil, wool, coal and cotton. From 1959 to 2015 his practice moves from the written and pictorial language to a physical and environmental one where the conceptual process is intertwined with elementary matters. In counterpoint to an elitist and aseptic idioma that dominates the art world, Kounellis juxtaposes a language based on the primacy of vital elements and the terrestrial relationship with art. The sublime phenomenon of combustion frequently emerges within the artist’s research like in Fire and Daisy e.g, emphasising its transformative and regenerative potential.
The element of fire takes the shape of gas cylinders, hooked freely and placed in conjunction with the spectator’s gaze, so as to blind its sight in favour of channeling an inner feeling. The installation, exhibited at the retrospective, becomes then a lattice of flames on the floor that permeates the curatorial space, announcing the ardor and desire for a revolution. Precariousness, lightness, permanence and rigidity are among the many concepts that draw the metaphor of living beings, that substantiate the aspiration to reach absolute freedom and the moral constraints induced by society.
The artist’s portrait Untitled (Civil tragedy) is an iconic piece composed of a bare wall covered in gold leaf contrasted by the artist’s black clothes placed on a coat rack. The meager scenario alludes to the artist’s lack of creativity facing an existential crisis while the acetylene lamp is lit as to suggest a gleam of hope for the future. The retrospective is completed with the display of documents, films, posters and archive photographs that testify the history of Kounellis, as well as giving a focus on his theatrical background. An illustrated publication featuring a curatorial essay by Germano Celant and some insightful documentation of the artist’s professional path will be available to conclude this exquisite walk into Kounellis’s life.
“Jannis Kounellis” in Fondazione Prada, Venice