Jannis Kounellis

In Memoriam


HEART - Herning Museum of Contemporary Art, Herning, Denmark


Press release

Jannis Kounellis died on 16 February 2017 in Villa Mafalda in Rome. HEART opened with a major exhibition of him in 2009 and the museum's collection includes several of his works. Jannis Kounellis was not Italian. He was born on March 23, 1936 in Piraeus. In 1956 he left his birthplace and embarked on a journey that eventually led him to Rome, where he later lived. Kounellis has kept the journey alive in his work - both the journey, but especially this journey from his native country to Italy. As a kind of program for a life and an art he was still unaware of, he re-enacted the transfer and transformation of Greek culture into Roman. 

During the 1960s, Kounellis became part of the group of Italian artists known as Arte Povera. Wherever the term has been used since, it has virtually never been translated. In Danish it means "Poor art", but "povera" means i.a. also, "sparse", "poor" or "deceased", and only in Italian can one retain the ambiguity of the term. "Arte Povera" refers to the materials used by the artists. In Kounelli's case, fire, iron, wood, coal, animals and plants, the building blocks of civilization and nature, which in Kounelli's hands are loaded with poetry. Brutality and beauty create a sensual "Wunderkammer", where scent, sight and sound rekindle our often dormant world of cultural-historical references and archetypal dreams. 

In Kounellis, history comes alive: through the poetization of the familiar, it becomes a living part of the present. The sensuous and sensuous space, history and modernity as the conditions of human existence, are a crucial theme throughout Kounellis' work. His question is: “You can not escape 3000 years of cultural history… so how can you be modern under the weight of tradition and history?
The question is relevant to any society in the world that experiences the conflicts between tradition and modernity, which are the companions of the rapid modernization and commercialization. Two contradictory and complementary aspects of the same case, whose recognition and answer are the terms of each generation.