fondazione prada presents major jannis kounellis retrospective in venice

fondazione prada presents major jannis kounellis retrospective in venice

during the venice architecture biennalefondazione prada presents ‘jannis kounellis’, a major retrospective on the greek italian contemporary artist. curated by germano celant, the exhibition explores his artistic and exhibition history, following his death in 2017. bringing together more than 60 works from 1959 to 2015, they highlight key moments in the evolution of his visual poetics whilst establishing a dialogue with the historic palazzo of ca’ corner della regina.


held at fondazione prada‘s eighteenth century venetian venue, the first floor of the palazzo features the artist’s early works which deal with urban language. paintings originally exhibited between 1960 and 1966 reproduce actual writings and signs from the streets of rome. later on, the artist transferred black letters, arrows and numbers onto white canvases, paper or other surfaces, in a language deconstruction that expresses a fragmentation of the real.

untitled (1993–2008), wardrobes, steel cables, untitled (2004), lead rolls, fabric
images courtesy of fondazione prada



from 1964 onward, kounellis addresses subjects taken from nature, from sunsets to roses— the latter represented on canvases. two years later in 1967, kounellis’ investigation turns more radical embracing the use of organic and inorganic materials to transform his traditionally pictorial uniformity. during this time he embraced concrete and natural elements including soil, cacti, wool, coal, cotton, and fire.

left to right: untitled (1965), oil on canvas, untitled (1967) iron, coal, untitled (1960), oil on canvas, untitled (1964), oil on canvas



kounellis also explored the sound dimension of his work, translating paintings into sheets of music which could be played or danced to. in 1960, he began chanting his letters on canvas, and by 1970 he included the presence of a musician or a dancer.

untitled (1971), oil paint on canvas, chair, cellist


these musical semblances are seen in two works from 1980 and 2006 which are composed of musical instruments connected to flaming gas cylinders and wrought iron bells. several flutists play a fragment of a composition by mozart, while in the second an oil painting portrays the notes of another sacred composition by bach, this time played live by a violoncellist.


these works substitute or connect the image with sound, overcoming the traditional distinctions between artistic languages. the exhibition explores the olfactory expression, with works that include materials such as coffee and grappa, offering an escape from the illusory limits of painting.

untitled (1988), glass, grappa, lead



as kounellis moved from a written and pictorial language to a physical and environmental one, he subverted the elitist aspect of the art world. in its place, a more expressive one based on the primacy of vital elements and a terrestrial relationship evolved.

untitled (2013), iron, coffee



concerned with the corporeal experience, kounellis was intrigued by the dialectic battle between lightness, instability, and temporality, as it was connected with the fragility of the organic element. in contrast to feelings of heaviness, permanence, artificiality, and rigidity of industrial structures, these are represented at several points by modular surfaces in gray painted metal.



kounellis’ inclusion in exhibitions that contributed to the elaboration of arte povera is also traced. the installation ‘untitled (tragedia civile)(1975)’, a self-portrait characterized by the contrast between the gold leaf that completely covers a bare wall and black clothing which hangs on a coat hanger, underlines the drama of a scene that alludes to a historical crisis and personnel.

untitled (tragedia civile)(1975), goldleaf-coated wall, coat rack, coat, hat, lamp



meanwhile, the traces of soot on the stones, the canvases and the walls, in some works of 1979 and 1980, indicate a personal ‘return to painting’. it is a sentiment that stands in opposition to the anti-ideological and hedonistic approach of a lot of pictorial production of the eighties. during this time the artist also developed the chimney motif, the opposite to a ‘primitive, revolutionary flame’, now imprisoned in the brick structure.

untitled (1980), stones, palette, soot



a work from 1974 made up of portions of plaster casts of classical statues laid out on a table and accompanied by a lit paraffin lamp represent the past. meanwhile, others riff on the artist’s greco-roman heritage, exploring it through a mask, as in the 1973 installation made up of a wooden frame on which plaster casts of faces are placed at regular intervals.

untitled (1971), gas tanks, flames, rubber pipes



another common motif is the door, which kounellis represented in various versions, sometimes accompanied by bells and plaster casts of classical statues. displayed in the exhibition in three different declinations dating from 1972 to 2004, it tells of the difficulty between the artist and the dynamics of his present. passageways between rooms are closed up with stones, iron reinforcing bars and lead sheets revealing the historical interiority of the building and making several spaces inaccessible in order to emphasize their unknown.

untitled, 1972, walled up door with stones



presented in the internal courtyard of the venetian palazzo, an installation encapsulates kounellis’ deeper dialogue with architectural and urban spaces. composed of seven metal plates that support sacks filled with coffee beans, it tells of the artist’s fascination with gravity and equilibrium. completing the exhibition are a series of large-scale installations realized from the end of the 1980s. these ensembles challenge the laws of gravity, enveloping shelves or metal constructions containing objects of various origins: from plaster casts to stones, from coats to glasses and mechanical gears.

untitled (1992), iron, burlap, coffee



the retrospective concludes on the ground floor with documents – including films, exhibition catalogues, invitations, posters and archival photographs – that trace kounellis’ exhibition history. the exhibition is accompanied by a volume that includes an essay by germano celant and an extensive illustrated chronology, documenting and exploring jannis kounellis’ artistic career and biography.

untitled (1994), iron, enamel, untitled (2013), iron, stones, cloth, steel, burlap, coal, wool, sewing machines, coats, marble, ceramic, untitled (2011) coats, hats, shoes



project info


gallery: fondazione prada

exhibition: jannis kounellis

artist: jannis kounellis

location: venice

venue: ca’ corner della regina

dates: 11 may – 24 november 2019

    have something to add? share your thoughts in our comments section below.
    all comments are reviewed for the purposes of moderation before publishing.

    comments policy
    LOG IN
    designboom's comment policy guidelines
    generally speaking, if we publish something, it's because we're genuinely interested in the subject. we hope you'll share this interest and if you know even more about it, please share! our goal in the discussion threads is to have good conversation and we prefer constructive opinions. we and our readers have fun with entertaining ones. designboom welcomes alerts about typos, incorrect names, and the like.
    the correction is at the discretion of the post editor and may not happen immediately.

    what if you disagree with what we or another commenter has to say?
    let's hear it! but please understand that offensive, inappropriate, or just plain annoying comments may be deleted or shortened.

    - please do not make racist, sexist, anti-semitic, homophobic or otherwise offensive comments.
    - please don't personally insult the writers or your fellow commenters.
    - please avoid using offensive words, replacing a few letters with asterisks is not a valid workaround.
    - please don't include your website or e-mail address in your comments for the purpose of self-promotion.
    - please respect jury verdicts and do not discuss offensively on the competition results
    (there is only one fist prize, and designboom usually asks renown professionals to help us to promote talent.
    in addition to the awarded designs, we do feel that almost all deserve our attention, that is why we publish
    the best 100-200 entries too.)

    a link is allowed in comments as long as they add value in the form of information, images, humor, etc. (links to the front page of your personal blog or website are not okay). unwelcome links (to commercial products or services of others, offensive material etc. ) will be redacted. and, ... yes, spam gets banned. no, we do not post fake comments.


    a diverse digital database that acts as a valuable guide in gaining insight and information about a product directly from the manufacturer, and serves as a rich reference point in developing a project or scheme.

    art news

    keep up with our daily and weekly stories
    502,379 subscribers
    - see sample
    - see sample