Jannis Kounellis - In Memoriam





09.09.17 - 14.01.18

Jannis Kounellis died on 16 February 2017 in Villa Mafalda in Rome. When HEART was officially opened in 2009 the very first exhibition was a major presentation of Kounellis’s art, and the museum’s collection includes several of his works.

Jannis Kounellis was not Italian. He was born on 23 March 1936 in Piraeus. He left behind his birthplace in 1956 to set out on a journey that eventually took him to Rome, where he settled down for good. Kounellis has kept the theme of journeying alive in his work – the act of travelling in general, but particularly this journey from his native country to Italy. As if foreshadowing a life and art of which he could as yet have known nothing, he re-enacted the transfer and transformation of Greek culture into Roman.
During the 1960s Kounellis became part of the Italian Arte Povera movement. The term is virtually never translated. It can be taken to mean “poor art”, but “povera” can also mean “impoverished”, “meagre”, or “dead”. The nuances inherent in the phrase can only be maintained in the original Italian.

The term Arte Povera refers to the materials used by the artists. In the case of Kounellis these were fire, iron, wood, coal, animals and plants – the building blocks of nature and civilisation, imbued with poetry in Kounellis’s hands.
Brutality and beauty combine to create a sensual ”Wunderkammer”, a cabinet of curiosities and wonder where scents, sights and sounds reignite our often slumbering world of cultural-historical references and archetypal dreams.
In Kounellis’s art history comes alive: the familiar is made poetic, thereby making the past vibrantly present in the here and now.
The sensuous and sensed space, history and modernity as part of the human condition are crucial themes in Kounellis’s art. He asks: “It is impossible to escape 3,000 years of cultural history … so how can one be modern under the weight of tradition and history?

The question is relevant for any society anywhere in the world that experiences the conflicts between tradition and modernity which follow in the wake of rapid modernisation and commercialisation. Two mutually contradictory and complementary aspects of the same issue, and a conundrum that each generation must face anew.