Arte Povera - Gallery 3

Explore works by Jannis Kounellis and Luciano Fabro.

Untitled (Scale and Coffee) (2014) by Jannis KounellisMagazzino Italian Art

In Senza titolo (Bilancino e caffè), a stark frame of metal girders is in dialogue with a series of small scales containing coffee grounds. The intense aroma engages the beholder in a sensorial experience that goes beyond sight. Smell is an important element of Kounellis’ work. For the artist, it refers to our fundamental human condition. The involvement of smell also questions the primacy of vision as the basis of meaning and rationality.

The artist first used scales in his compositions in 1969 for a solo show in Naples. Coffee is a commercial good traded in port cities such as Naples and Piraeus—the port city of Athens where the artist was born. Disseminating its aroma in the surrounding space, the coffee evokes the markets of the Mediterranean and the trade and transport of goods. It also reminds us of our daily rituals, thereby exemplifying Arte Povera’s interest in art as life.

Untitled (Diptych) Untitled (Diptych) (1994) by Jannis KounellisMagazzino Italian Art

Jannis Kounellis’s Senza titolo (Dittico) is an assemblage of two sheets of steel, pieces of chain, and rusted fragments from ships that are displayed on shelves like archaeological artifacts. Maritime travel is a recurring subject in the artist’s work, where it often refers to the nomadic life of the artist and to the condition of migration. The metal chains and ship parts are placed on shelves that evoke a musical score and point to the pictorial nature of Kounellis’s art.

This work marks a turning point in Kounellis’s practice. These scraps and chains were exhibited at the Bernier Gallery in Athens in 1994, when the artist installed his works in a cargo ship named Ionion, docked in the port city of Piraeus, the artist’s birthplace and the former heart of the Greek shipping industry. The artist staged works that capture a sense of the past and align memory with the present human condition. The scale of the four panels at the back of the work references a double bed, a site of human life that Kounellis often referenced in his practice.

Untitled Untitled (2003) by Jannis KounellisMagazzino Italian Art

The theme of the journey had multiple meanings for Jannis Kounellis: the geographical movement of travelers, the journey of memories, and existential exploration. The artist imagined his condition as one of a wanderer. The burlap sacks are tied to ideas of maritime commerce as are the metal hooks, which are the same ones used for transporting commodities to ports like Piraeus, the port city of Athens where the artist was born.

At the same time, the coat, which belonged to the artist, is a personal item of clothing that references travelers. The used coat evokes a body in absentia. The size and presence of human beings were crucial to Kounellis. Each of the three panels that compose the work is the standard size of a double bed, which the artist referenced as a dimension of human life. It constitutes part of Kounellis’s personal iconography and frequently appeared in his work.

Untitled Untitled (1960) by Jannis KounellisMagazzino Italian Art

Jannis Kounellis created his Lettere or Alfabeti (Letters or Alphabets) series between 1959 and 1963 while he was a student at Rome’s Accademia di Belle Arti. By stamping or stenciling letters, numbers, and symbols onto paper or, less often, canvas, Kounellis developed a new pictorial syntax. In this work, however, Kounellis used one of his partner’s bedsheets from her trousseau, as canvas was prohibitively expensive for the then art student. Transposing the bold marks seen on transport vessels or street signs, Kounellis’s signs build a structure on the white- painted support as if they were architectural elements.

Such works are reminiscent of poetry made of spare signs and letters. By using a form of public language rendered in a poetic style, Kounellis expressed the necessity for a new vocabulary of painting after the crisis of early postwar years. According to Kounellis, the series is “hermetic writing in space... The letters or painted signs came from hard cardboard which I prepared. They were printed, not calligraphic—but structural.” Though ambiguous, the letter “J,” the artist’s first initial, also reminds us of later experiments in Arte Povera around artistic signature.

Untitled (1980) by Jannis KounellisMagazzino Italian Art

In 1980, Jannis Kounellis exhibited a series of drawings that include expressive mask-like faces. Responding to the resurgence of figurative painting in the 1980s, Kounellis revived his practice of drawing to express his vision of art as action.

Using an expressionist style, Kounellis layered black ink in thick strokes. The skeletal faces cover the entire paper, creating a sense of angst and imprisonment inspired by Edvard Munch’s series, The Scream (1893–1910). These drawings are also reminiscent of Kounellis’s works in which the artist filled door frames with objects. Similar to his use of the double bed frame, the door for Kounellis was a primary reference to the fundamental and intimate dimensions of everyday life.

This work was made toward the end of a tumultuous period in Italy known as gli anni di piombo (the years of lead): a period defined by economic and political crisis, terrorism, and widespread unrest. The angst Kounellis captured in this work was timely.

Untitled Untitled (1989) by Jannis KounellisMagazzino Italian Art

Jannis Kounellis often included clothing, such as hats, coats and shoes in his work, which often seems to evoke ghostly presences.

In this untitled work, a pair of worn shoes—lived-in objects—speak to the human condition. The artist often wore shoes until their soles were worn out. Shoes refer to endless wandering, a recurring metaphor in culture and literature. The layers of lead footprints under the soles allude to the path Kounellis forged and to memories imprinted during his life.

The weight of the lead symbolizes the heavy burden of the human condition. The use of bourgeois clothing references the literary image of the 19th-century middle-class man whose crisis represents the modern social and political tragedy, as in Bertolt Brecht’s plays.

Eos (The Dawn) Eos (The Dawn) (1997) by Luciano FabroMagazzino Italian Art

Luciano Fabro’s work from the 1990s elaborates on his interest in classical iconography. In this work, the columns recall ancient relics of the past. It revives Greek myths as well as materials and practices of the old masters’ tradition, through which the artist insisted upon the eternal contemporaneity of symbols and art.

Eos (L’Aurora) is composed of two marble columns, positioned adjacent to one another on the floor of the gallery. The work refers to Eos, the goddess of the dawn, a female being who regenerates herself each day at daybreak. Her myth is linked to the creation of the cosmos and all elements of nature, such as the sun and the sky. The opposition between white and black marbles and the gold-painted globes refer to the cosmos. They also refer to the transition from day to night symbolized by Eos. Legend has it that Eos had a love affair with the god Ares, causing the jealous Aphrodite to condemn her to have an insatiable sexual desire. This work was first exhibited with inflated condoms, which alluded to the legend of Eos and suggested a reflection on the HIV/AIDS crisis.

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