A cellist plays a passage from J.S.Bach’s “Passion According St.John” in front of a painting featuring the musical notes of the passage
22.04.06 | 04.11.06
Anthony d''Offay, London
The invasion and sensitization of space experienced in Nabucco (1970) is repeated in 1971 in three other works. The first was shown in November at the Palazzo Taverna in Rome, where four flutists played a Mozart tune; the second, created in December at the Folker Skulima gallery in Berlin, featured a cellist playing a piece by Johann Sebastian Bach, in front of a large brown canvas with musical notes; the third – corresponding to the work in this exhibition – was shown three days later at the Lucio Amelio gallery in Naples, with the cellist Mario Starita, who repeatedly played the musical phrase painted on the large green canvas next to him, reproducing a passage from Bach’s St. John Passion. Unlike the earlier interventions, here the musical event has linguistic rather than political or lyrical significance, because it revolves around the possibility of creating a “painting as writing, as music.” In the 1960s, an analogy between these three languages had inspired Kounellis’s paintings with letters, numbers, and signs (1959-62), conceived by the artist as a sort of score to be chanted and set to music in a personal manner. Most importantly, this approach resulted in a work from 1964, characterized by the black word “Petite” imposed against a yellow background, accompanied by the musical notes from the beginning of Sidney Bechet’s song Petite fleur: the only conceived at that point for accompaniment by a piano, and the first painting where musical thought becomes predominant, anticipating Kounellis’s subsequent explorations.
Painting, like writing and the musical score, is a system of linear signs through which man seeks to give visible and communicable form to his most profound reality, through the system’s immaterial and latent nature. This theme was developed by Kounellis that same year in other works: one shown in December at the Galleria L’Attico in Rome, where a violinist played a portion of Igor Stravinsky’s Tarantella, while a ballerina danced in front of a canvas bearing the musical notes of the same composition (ripr. in J.-C. Ammann et al., 1983, p. 96); Homage to Morris Louis (fig. 84), where the artist, his hand painted, sat next to a violin on which there rested the burned score of Dovrak’s New World Symphony. The juxtaposition of music and its graphic transcription – which also took on plastic form in the work with the ballerina – is meant to break the isolation of linguistic sign, breaking down all its abstract or vacuous features. Moving in this direction, in 1972 Kounellis utilized musical scores engraved into iron, for his performance at the Ileana Sonnabend Gallery in New York, where flutist Jon Gibson played an excerpt from Mozart inside a wooden crate.
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 ...
[ continues ]
Modern Art Agency, Napoli, 1971 (violoncellista Mario Starita); Ileana Sonnabend Galley, New York, 1972; Tendencije 5, Galleria Suvremene Umetnosti, Zagabria, 1973; Museum Boysman van Beuningen, Rotterdam, 1977