From 1959 to 1962, the young Kounellis, who had moved to Rome a few years earlier to complete the academic studies begun in Athens, released a series of works in which asymmetric letters, numbers and symbols occupy the white space of the canvas or sheet of paper. Unlike the closed sequence of numbers often used by Jasper Johns in those years to highlight the perpendicularity of the painted surface, Kounellis’ writing yearns for a free space, indifferent to the borders of the picture. The first years of experimentation, characterised by intense activity, were spent in an attempt to bridge this gap: an effort pursued by purging the gesturality of Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline from any remnant of intimism and following the visual stimuli offered by the urban environment. The rejection of a space confined to within the borders of the canvas was the basis for the exhibitions in which these works first appeared. Written to be sung rather than recited, the sheets were attached to the canvas or cut into the shape of costumes. The Greek artist, wearing one of his paintings and mocking the linguistic difficulties encountered by those adapting to a new alphabet – as he did at his first exhibition, at Galleria La Tartaruga in Rome in 1960 – emulated the image of Hugo Ball and, more generally, the phonetic poetry of the Dadaists of Cabaret Voltaire.


  • Title: Z-3
  • Creator: Jannis Kounellis
  • Date: 1961
  • Physical Dimensions: w165 x h134 cm
  • Inscriptions: Signed and dated at the top, towards, on the canvas,: John Kounellis 61 Galleria La Tartaruga. On the frame, top: Jannis Kounellis The Turtle Gallery
  • Date of acquisition: 1967
  • Acquisition: Donated by the Artisti, Rome
  • Provenance: GAM - Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Turin
  • Type: Paintings
  • Rights: All rights reserved, GAM - Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Turin
  • Medium: Tempera on canvas

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