Jannis Kounellis

(Piraeus, 1936 - Rome, 2017)
Steel, lead and coal 145.4 x 243.2 cm (57.2 x 95.7 in.) 1986

Spanning nearly two and a half meters in width, Untitled is a highly distinctive work from Jannis Kounellis’ oeuvre. The piece was produced in 1986, during what the artist refers to as his ‘formalisation’ period, where he began to explore a wide range of materials and their aesthetic and ideological concerns, from burlap sacks, wax and coffee beans to the lead and coal that can be seen in Untitled. Attempting to repair the rupture between art and life through this active and considered exploration of materials, Untitled unites steel, lead and coal and demonstrates Kounellis’ arrival at a unique artistic language that speaks through, but also beyond, its materiality.

On a dark steel backing, rippled with the effects of oxidization and natural wear, Kounellis has fixed two shelves which hold coal and pieces of melted lead. The artist challenges the boundaries of wall mounted art as the elements jut out from the steel panel, provoking deep engagement and consideration. In the present work, Kounellis explores the notion of space as he layers the metal shelves whilst uniting all the elements in one picture plane.

In the two uses of lead - the panel in the left hand corner cut precisely, and the other pieces of lead which have been heated and melted - Kounellis exposes the vast scope of the material capable from different handling, whether altered at the hands of man or natural elements. The dichotomy and a certain tension continues to build here between the organic and non-organic materials, as the smooth steel backdrop is juxtaposed with the rough pieces of coal – a material that is found naturally and yet powers industry. Whilst the natural qualities of the materials are only ever provoked rather than diminished, in his use of horizontal lines Kounellis has given the piece a further industrial quality that refers to its creation in the modern age.

Through the use of ‘non-traditional’ media in his artistic practice, Kounellis explores sense of unease and alienation of our contemporary society, which is built on industry but still attempts to refer to traditional values and history. As a result of his artistic language, Kounellis’ works have been linked with the Arte Povera group, whose members such as Mario Merz, Giovanni Anselmo and Giuseppe Penone employed ‘poor’ materials to create profound artistic meaning. In using such democratic earthly matter manipulated by nature, industry and his own hand, Kounellis wanted to speak directly to his viewer in order to explore what is at the heart of human life in the industrial age.

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"Italian modern and post-war contemporary art"

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