Chalk on iron plate with shelf and candle
22.04.06 | 04.11.06
Collection Reiner Speck, Cologne
In 1969 Kounellis was in Paris, to participate in the VI Biennale at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville and in a group show at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. At that time he witnessed the frequent social unrest that was disrupting life in the French capital, which was engulfed in the revolutionary tensions unleashed by the events of May 1968 in Europe, by the cultural revolution in China, and, in America, by the pacifist, feminist, and civil rights movements. Impelled by the ideas behind these events, Kounellis created this piece, in which he links the historical theme of the French Revolution to current events. The slogan “Libertà o Morte W Marat W Robespierre” (“Liberty or Death Long Live Marat Long Live Robespierre”), written on the metal sheet, declares his support for the principles of the Enlightenment, but also expresses his awareness of the historic value of a past that, while having its dark side, signified the victory of the new over the old. The use of plaster, which can easily be wiped out, alludes to the transience of memory and the vulnerability of a revolutionary thrust that leaves society unchanged. This is why it is necessary to keep tension alive, as the presence of the fire and the shelf suggests. Indeed, Kounellis himself has spoken of the “need to possess an awareness of art as history” and, in an interview in 1993, he stated: “I like periods where the destabilizing commitment of the artist is more marked […] The tradition of art is not a decorative tradition, it has its own moral and ideological constitution” (J. Kounellis, in Odissea lagunare, Palermo 1993, pp. 68, 134).
A second version of the piece is in the Göets collection, Munich.
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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Galleria Lucio Amelio, Napoli, 1969; La ricerca estetica dal 1960 al 1970, X Quadriennale Nazionale d’Arte, Roma, 1973; Städtisches Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach, 1978; Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, 1981 [poi: Obra social, Caja de Pensiones, Madrid, 1982 (dentro un armadio); Whitechapel Art Gallery, Londra, 1982; Staatlische Kunsthalle, Baden-Baden, 1982]; Musei Comunali, Rimini, 1983; Städtische Galerie im Lembachhaus, Monaco, 1985; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, 1986; Köln sammelt. Zeitgenössische Kunst aus Kölner Privatbesitz, Museum Ludwig, Colonia, 1988; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 1990; Castello di Rivoli – Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Torino, 1988-89; Mosca, 1991; Museo Nacional de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, 1996; Moderna Art Oxford, Oxford, 2004; Burri. Gli artisti e la materia 1945-2004, Scuderie del Quirinale, Roma, 2005