Monday, 20 August 2012

Jannis Kounellis

Jannis Kounellis

at the Cycladic Museum of Art

Jannis Kounellis is one of the most influential figures of the Arte Povera (poor art) movement that swept Italy in the 1960s as a reaction to the political and economic chaos which ended the country's postwar resurgence, when artists began being critical of established institutions and questioning whether art as the private expression of the individual still had an ethical reason to exist. They used simple, everyday materials with the predominant concern for balance, weight, and light.

The movement cleared the way for much of today's conceptual art and the use of materials such as beds and tents. Such commonplace materials 'were brought into the gallery by Arte Provera artists. But they also rejected the need to develop a personal style, approaching each work as a separate project. That's why they tended to work across genres and media. We are used to this now but at the time it was radical'. (Frances Morris, head of international collections at Tate modern).

They questioned what it means to be making art, what place the artwork has within the gallery walls, and art's relationship with commercialism - topics that are very relevant today. Furthermore, even the earliest Arte Provera works set off an outbreak of  'is this art?' questioning.

This exhibition is site specific. Aware of the economic, social and political situation in Greece, Kounellis has used materials found in Athenian junkyards and markets: newspapers, coal, burlap sacks, old shoes and glasses, overcoats, soil, iron bars.

No wall text describing the installations, no ropes.

Room 1

The burlap sacks are filled with coal and in the middle, broken up ancient Greek-style heads/masks. Is this the way contemporary Greece responds to its cultural heritage? could be the question asked here.

looking closer.

Room 2

sacks filled with coal, earth and marble

Room 3

Room 4

looking closer - sacks with coal and hundreds of glasses

inverted crucifix made out of RSJs and lit oil lamp hanging from it

iron plaque with broken bits of the heads/masques we saw earlier, held in place with wire


up the stairs


knife hanging on a rope on the landing.

Room 5


Overcoasts hanging from hooks that are fixed on RSJs on all four walls

Room 6


A stone on a chair - is this the burden Greece has to carry today?

Room 7



Room 8



looking closer.

The contrast of the installations and the neo-classical building added to the impact of the exhibition.

The other building of the Museum is a very modern one, where the Ugo Rondinone exhibition was staged.

the two buildings are joined by this futuristic-looking corridor.


  1. Powerful pieces...again the shoes and hats and pile of glasses has the echo of Auschwitz with possessions placed in neat piles as their owners walked to their death.


  2. It was a very powerful exhibition and I was greatly affected by it. I have been interested in Kounellis' work for a while now, and have seen bits in exhibitions here and there so it was great being able to see a lot of his work and particularly a site specific exhibition in Athens in today's climate.

    I also think that arte povera as a movement is very interesting.