As one of the most renowned Greek artists, with a distinguished international career and numerous exhibitions while he was alive, actively involved in Italian art movements, and as someone whose works are included in some of the greatest museum collections in the world, Jannis Kounellis was unquestionably one of the most inventive and innovative artists of his time and beyond.
After his initial work in painting, influenced by the abstract monochromatic work of artists such as Burri and Fontana, Kounellis persistently sought a new direction that would allow him to break free from the painting frame. This led him to introduce "foreign" elements into his paintings, which demonstrate an early sculptural quality, already since 1963. In 1967, he became associated with Arte Povera, a budding art movement initiated by young artists, who wanted to challenge the commercialization of painting, and the arts in general, by introducing "poor" materials into their artworks, such as textiles, industrial objects, and garbage, in an attempt to create an anti-elitist art and to bring about a return to fundamental minimalist values.
In most of his well-known installations –many of which were created in situ, in specific old industrial or historical spaces– he uses elemental materials, like water, fire, smoke, and gold, giving his installations a monumental and intensely spiritual and alchemical character. Burlap is a characteristic material of his work, used in combination with several other materials. Since the late 1960s, Kounellis started including real animals in his works. More broadly speaking, history, collective memory, and humanity, combined with his own personal touch and experiences, are the elements that give his work its intense symbolic air and ecumenical character.
MOMus-Museum of Contemporary Art-Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art and State Museum of Contemporary Art Collections