Forty stones, black paint
22.04.06 | 04.11.06
Kounellis frequently resorts to the practice of partially immersing elements of his work into paint: stones, plaster casts of statues (Untitled, 1978, exhibited at Ink, Zurich, 1978), pieces of furniture (Untitled, 1982, exhibited at the Ileana Sonnabend Gallery, New York, 1982), large square stones (Untitled, 1984, exhibited at the Museum Haus Esters, Krefeld, 1984), pieces of wood (Untitled, 1983, exhibited at the Ileana Sonnabend Gallery, New York, 1983), or metal sheets (Untitled, 1993, exhibited at Palazzo Fabroni, Pistoia, 1993). The theme, which is fundamental to his artistic process, is the confrontation between a natural material and an artificial one, resolved within the same, small-scale element. The choice to immerse objects directly in black paint and not to paint them ensures a light, homogeneous, and smooth covering, as if the paint were a second skin. The juxtaposition of the black paint and the portion of the object left in its natural state always produces a different chromatic and luminous solution, depending on the quality of the support left exposed. In the case of this work, made up of stones, or more accurately pebbles, the black pigment exists in dialogue with a curved surface, over which the light moves rapidly, held for only a moment by the infinitesimal flashes of the stone. Taking advantage of the casual arrangement of the stones on the floor, Kounellis literally “paints” the space occupied by the work, modulating its lights and shadows, creating ever-changing plays of chiaroscuro. The partial immersion of the stones in the black paint is similar to his use of lampblack; it is literally a pictorial process, as seen in a work from 1980, where some stones rest along a wall blackened by soot with a painter’s palette above, it too covered in lampblack, a material that, in fact, was used by Renaissance painters to grant volume and chiaroscuro effects to their frescoes (Untitled, 1980, reproduced in G. Moure et al., 1996, p. 188)
In the late 1970s this practice of partially painting objects and materials to transform them into pictorial and luminous elements expanded to a truly spatial and architectural dimension, in the work exhibited in 1979 at Konrad Fischer in Düsseldorf, where Kounellis painted half the gallery wall black, and placed in front of it a hat stand with an overcoat and hat and, on the half of the wall left white, he inserted shelves with plaster casts blackened with lampblack. In 1985, instead, he completely covered two entire contiguous walls of the Galerie Jean Bernier in Athens with stones, partially colored with black paint (ripr. in G. Moure et al., 1996, p. 228).
In Kounellis’s earliest works one can already glimpse this tension between a search for historic and poetic identity and a desire to break with the status quo by opening ...
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Modern Art Agency, Napoli, 1969