Oil on cardboard
22.04.06 | 04.11.06
Collection Speck, Cologne
This work consists of a double row of three sheets of cardboard, each 70x100 centimeters (c. 28x40”), a size that Kounellis, up to this point, considered suitable for his artistic expression, and which he subsequently would repeat in other materials. Having prepared the shapes of the letters in rigid cardboard, he then pressed them like stamps onto the support, in a free arrangement, without any formal composition – evoking Franz Kline’s assertive proposition, but also Jackson Pollock’s infinite space, where every sign catalyzes the space, expanding it. The anonymous handwriting reflects an impersonal and environmental contingency, taken directly from street life and from its formal language. However these are not quotations of the urban reality, because inverted, disturbed, and fragmented, the signs lose their logical connections, to become an alphabet unto itself. This transformation exposes their distance from the “Pop,” illustrative, and everyday transferences of Ed Ruscha or Jasper Johns, just as their epigraphic nature contrasts with the lyrical and emotional effusion of Cy Twombly (who moved to Rome precisely in 1958). Indeed, Kounellis has explained: “The problem, then, was to affirm a new type of painting: something that came after art informal.” (J. Kounellis, in W. Sharp, Structure and sensibility: an interview with Jannis Kounellis, “Avalanche”, New York, n. 5, summer 1972, cf. J.-C. Ammann et al., 1983, p. 27). And so his signs appear as elements halfway between a pragmatic and public language and a private and personal one, proposing a third way of “creative writing,” capable of accepting, but at the same time also transforming, the context from which it originates and in which it moves. In this sense the large dimensions of these paintings respond to the need to oppose “a mentality that had become restrictive” (J. Kounellis, in G. Celant, unpublished interview, Genoa, February-August 1974, published in J.-C. Ammann et al., 1983, p. 34).
The rhythmic casualness with which, in the 1960s, the letters float in the vague and empty space of whiteness, in the 1980s gives way to the solidity of a project where the work’s position constitutes an order and its sequence a plot. This evolution is clearly visible in a work from 1986, where sheets of white paper with letters are inserted within a complex narrative structure, made up of a large metal sheet, on which lighted propane gas torches alternate with letters and signs painted in black or cut into the metal (exhibited at the Nationalgalerie, Berlin, 1988, reproduced in G. Moure et al., 1996, p. 220). In search of a more solid and concrete foundation to anchor his alphabet, in the last works in this series Kounellis traces letters and signs on burlap sacks full of coal or grain, superimposing them over the commercial writing, which thus is completely annulled.
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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Kounellis, Rauschemberg, Schifano, Tinguely, Twombly, Galleria La Tartaruga, Rome, 1961; Musei Comunali, Rimini, 1983; Légendes, capcMusée d'art contemporain, Bordeaux, 1984; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, 1986; Köln sammelt. Zeitgenössische Kunst aus Kölner Privatbesitz, Museum Ludwig, Cologne, 1988; Bilderstreit, Museum Ludwig in den Rheinhallen der Kölner Messe, Cologne, 1989; Kestner-Gesellschaft, Hannover, 1991 [poi: Kunstmuseum, Winterthur, 1991]; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, 1996; Zero to Infinity: Arte Povera 1962-1972, Tate Modern, London, 2001 [poi: Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 2001; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 2002; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., 2002]