Oil on canvas
22.04.06 | 04.11.06
Anthony d'Offay, London, on long term loan to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh
The large canvases with letters, numbers, and signs emerge as “wall paintings.” Applied to the walls, which were prepared for painting, they are also tied to the dimensions of the studio space. Used for their visual content, the black signs are applied directly to the wall, remaining suspended between floor and ceiling, between the universality of the language of the street and a pre-verbal world embodied in the indecipherable and mysterious writing. For Kounellis, these signs are a precious material to be rediscovered in its evocative and visual force, as well as its sonorous power, which he intended to reawaken through chanting and music. This was precisely the purpose of the performance Kounellis created in 1960, both in his studio and at the La Tartaruga gallery, where he wore one of his canvases, painted with letters, as if it were a hieratic and priestly vestment – very similar, as well, to the costume worn by Hugo Ball in one of his Dadaist evenings at the Cabaret Voltaire (1916) – and he hung all the walls with canvases covered in kemtone, a type of acrylic paint, where he applied letters, numbers and signs, which he then chanted. The pictorial surface of the painting thus becomes “a thing that is read,” and even more, a musical score, where the letters are notes and the white spaces correspond to pauses, concretely revealing the profound significance of this alphabet as a “memory of reading and […] memory of the word” (J. Kounellis, in G. Celant, unpublished interview, Genoa, February-August 1974, published in J.-C. Ammann et al., 1983, p. 36).
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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Musei Comunali, Rimini, 1983; Modern Art Oxford, Oxford, 2004; Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edimburgo, 2005