Oil on wood
22.04.06 | 04.11.06
Fascinated by the characteristic shop signs on the streets of Rome, Kounellis remakes them, reinventing them pictorially, as in this piece from 1958, painted front and back with black enamel against a white background. On one side is the word “Tabacchi” (tobacco), on the other side “Olio” (oil), with visible deletions and traces of previous writings, conveying the passage of time and changes in activity. The reemergence of these words, which, in their anonymous calligraphy, preserve the ambient objectivity from which they originate, responds to a need for painting that is neither representational nor gestural, and which can offer an alternative to the expressionistic clutter of European Art Informal and American Action painting and provide a link between man’s psycho-physical and public dimensions. Kounellis focuses his attention on language, not as meaning but as image, where comprehensibility is not entrusted to codes of reason, but to the autonomous and suggestive charge of the letters. The writing in this work directly brings to mind the Roman landscape of the late 1950s, when the poverty and horrors of the war were beginning to give way to the first signs of economic recovery. Another painting, instead, marked by the word Notte (night, 1965), black on a white ground, evokes a modernist and transgressive atmosphere (the consonants are written backwards) of the mid-1960s, when juke-boxes or music imported from America first appeared in nightclubs
In 1984 the work underwent a transformation and became a punctuating element in a larger wall composition organized around the precise rhythmic layout of forty shelves with lampblack, arranged in eight vertical rows. (exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, 1986, reproduced in G. Moure et al., 1996, p.154)
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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Museum Folkwang, Essen, 1979; The plural vanguard. Italy 1960-70, Centre of Cultural Services, Pescara, 1983; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, 1986; Stedelijk Museum voor Aktuele Kunst, Gand, 2002; Modern Art Oxford, Oxford, 2004