Jannis Kounellis - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale London Thursday, October 14, 2021 | Phillips

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  • Executed in 1989, Jannis Kounellis’s Untitled is comprised of two iron bars hung from hooks and partially enveloped in gathered burlap sacking. The paired ridged beams, suspended in parallel, strike a harmonious balance. The arrangement reflects the artist’s career-long experimentation with constructing alternate material worlds by staging poetic encounters with familiar objects. Relocating to Rome from Greece in 1956, Kounellis was a key pioneer of the Arte Povera movement that emerged amongst a group of socially-conscious artists in Italy in the late 1960s and 1970s. As evidenced in the present work, his use of non-traditional materials dismantles ‘the dichotomy between art and life’ to imagine an alternative mode of society, demonstrating the ongoing relevance of the ideologies and artistic practices of the earlier movement to his subsequent artmaking.i

    'The artist has always been a visionary […] I think that the artist is the inventor of the new as an affirmation of freedom.' —Jannis KounellisDespite the industrial quality of the sculptural work, Kounellis places the human subject at the heart of his practice: ‘It’s always about man’.ii He understands his artmaking as an extension of a humanist tradition that can be traced back to the Renaissance. The dimensions of Untitled (2 metres high and 1.8 metres wide) are approximately the same as a double bed, situating the proportions of the human body in dialogue with that of the twinned iron bars. Here, the human aspect of the work is not represented through figurative visual language but presented in the spatial relationship established between sculpture and viewer.

     

    An installation created in the interior of Ruderi del Teatro Margherita in Bari, Italy (2010) that cultivated a dynamic relationship between Kounellis’s art and the body of the visitor as they moved through the space. Bari, Ruderi del Teatro Margherita, Mostra, Jannis Kounellis a Bari nella foto le installazioni della Mostra. Foto: Gaetano Lo Porto© 2021. AGF/Scala, Florence © Adagp, Paris, 2021 - Photo : Adagp images
    An installation created in the interior of Ruderi del Teatro Margherita in Bari, Italy (2010) that cultivated a dynamic relationship between Kounellis’s art and the body of the visitor as they moved through the space. Bari, Ruderi del Teatro Margherita, Mostra, Jannis Kounellis a Bari nella foto le installazioni della Mostra. Foto: Gaetano Lo Porto© 2021. AGF/Scala, Florence © Adagp, Paris, 2021 - Photo : Adagp images

    Preoccupied with imagining alternative socio-political orders centred on the human subject, Kounellis, like the great German artist Joseph Beuys, thought profoundly about the role of the artist in post-war European society: ‘I search among the fragments (emotional and formal) for the scatterings of history. I search dramatically for unity, although it is unattainable, although it is Utopian, although it is impossible’.iii This sentiment is mirrored in the structure of the artist’s exhibitions from the mid-1970s onwards. He presented small-scale retrospectives of his work in which earlier pieces were brought into dialogue in installations. Untitled was included in one of the most significant exhibitions of this kind devised by Kounellis in 1994: Cargo Vessel M/V Ionion (1 October–13 November 1994).

     

    For this first retrospective of his work in Greece, the artist chose to stage the exhibition in the hold of a working cargo vessel tethered in the port of Piraeus – a bustling dock on the outskirts of Athens where he had grown up. Visitors descended into the belly of the vessel only to find the commodities usually stored within the industrial interior replaced with a curated grouping of Kounellis’s sculptural works. The two beams that constitute Untitled were hung from a wall, reconfiguring the industrial materials readily associated with the shipping industry in a poetic meditation on the overarching theme of the exhibition: the voyage.

     

    Another work made in the late 1980s and included in Kounellis’s 1994 exhibition, Cargo Vessel M/V Ionion. Jannis Kounellis, Senza titolo, 1988, steel, jute, travertine and limonite. Museo del Novecentro, Milan. Mondadori Portfolio/Electa/Luca Carrà / Bridgeman Images © Adagp, Paris, 2021 - Photo : Adagp images
    Another work made in the late 1980s and included in Kounellis’s 1994 exhibition, Cargo Vessel M/V Ionion. Jannis Kounellis, Senza titolo, 1988, steel, jute, travertine and limonite. Museo del Novecentro, Milan. Mondadori Portfolio/Electa/Luca Carrà / Bridgeman Images © Adagp, Paris, 2021 - Photo : Adagp images

    The idea of the voyage had preoccupied Kounellis since 1969 when he produced an exhibition poster featuring a photograph of him standing on the back of a fishing boat crossing the Bay of Naples. In 1974, during the 36th Venice Biennale, he first experimented with the site-specificity of the boat. He presented a row of scale pans and ground coffee illuminated by a kerosene lamp inside a barge moored on one of the Floating City’s canals. Yet, for Kounellis, the idea of the voyage is not solely associated with physical travel (the boat) but resounds with metaphorical and symbolic significance: ‘Every journey has an initiatory character, it is an active, loving, expansive idea of knowledge’.iv Created in 1989 and presented in his birthplace of Piraeus in 1994, Untitled has accumulated open-ended meaning as it has resurfaced throughout Kounellis’s artistic journey, standing as a powerful material exploration of the artist’s ever-expanding quest for knowledge.

     

    © Adagp, Paris, 2021 - Photo : Adagp images. Manolis Baboussis, Jannis Kounellis, MV Ionion, Piraeus, 1994.
    © Adagp, Paris, 2021 - Photo : Adagp images. Manolis Baboussis, Jannis Kounellis, MV Ionion, Piraeus, 1994.

     

    © Adagp, Paris, 2021 - Photo : Adagp images. Manolis Baboussis, Jannis Kounellis, MV Ionion, Piraeus, 1994.
    © Adagp, Paris, 2021 - Photo : Adagp images. Manolis Baboussis, Jannis Kounellis, MV Ionion, Piraeus, 1994.

     

    © Adagp, Paris, 2021 - Photo : Adagp images. Manolis Baboussis, Jannis Kounellis, MV Ionion, Piraeus, 1994.
    © Adagp, Paris, 2021 - Photo : Adagp images. Manolis Baboussis, Jannis Kounellis, MV Ionion, Piraeus, 1994.

     

    Speaking in 2015, Jannis Kounellis discusses the conceptual framework within which he undertakes his artistic practice and the contemporaneity of the colour grey introduced to his work through his use of industrial materials. 


    i Germano Celant, quoted in ‘In Memory of Germano Celant: Arte povera. Notes on a guerrilla war’, Flash Art, 29 April 2020, online
    ii Jannis Kounellis, quoted in ‘Jannis Kounellis: Gray is the Color of Our Time’, YouTube, 10 March 2015, online
    iii Jannis Kounellis, quoted in Gloria Moure, Jannis Kounellis: Works, Writings 1958-2000, Barcelona, 2001, p. 140
    iv Jannis Kounellis, quoted in Gloria Moure, Jannis Kounellis: Works, Writings 1958-2000, Barcelona, 2001, p. 281

    • Provenance

      Konrad Fischer Galerie, Dusseldorf
      Private Collection, Athens
      Christie's, London, 26 March 2014, lot 15
      Cardi Gallery, London
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2018

    • Exhibited

      Athens, Cargo Vessel Ionion, Piraeus, 1 October - 13 November 1994

    • Literature

      Gloria Moure, Kounellis, Barcelona, 1990, no. 41 (illustrated, p. 80)
      Kounellis Via del Mare, exh. cat., Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 1990-1991, p. 120 (illustrated, p. 6, erroneously dated 1990)
      Bruno Corá, Kounellis, Bergamo, 1996 (illustrated, pp. 69-73, 76-82, 98)
      Antonis Nicholaou Bastas and Katerina Koskina, eds., Kounellis M/V Ionion Pireus, Athens, 1998 (illustrated, pp. 66, 94, 97, 104, 108, 110-111, 126, 130, 140)
      Gloria Moure, Jannis Kounellis: Works, Writings 1958-2000, Barcelona, 2001 (illustrated, pp. 320-323)
      Jannis Kounellis, exh. cat., MADRE Museo d'Arte Contemporanea Donnaregina, Naples, 2006 (illustrated, pp. 184-185)
      Jannis Kounellis, exh. cat., Berlin, Neue Nationalgalerie, 2007-2008, no. 98 (illustrated)
      Marc Sheps, Jannis Kounellis: XXII Stations on an Odyssey 1969-2010, Munich, 2010, no. 81, pp. 119, 333 (illustrated, on the cover, pp. 117-118, 120)

157

Untitled

steel plates, iron beam, burlap sack and rope
200 x 181 x 30 cm (78 3/4 x 71 1/4 x 11 3/4 in.)
Executed in 1989.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
£150,000 - 200,000 ‡ ♠

Sold for £163,800

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20th Century & Contemporary Art

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20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale

London Auction 14 October 2021