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    Sale 11960

    First Open | London

    14 April 2016, London, South Kensington

  • Lot 144

    Jannis Kounellis (B. 1936)



    This lot has been withdrawn

    Jannis Kounellis (B. 1936)
    signed 'Kounellis' (lower right); signed and dated 'Kounellis 69' (on the reverse)
    oil and graphite on card
    25 ½ x 39 ¼in. (64.8 x 99.8cm.)
    Executed in 1969

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    ‘The work of a painter is to free something without imposing it’ (J. Kounellis, quoted in C. Lonzi, ‘Interview with Jannis Kounellis,’ Marcartré, December 1966, p. 134).

    Untitled dates from Jannis Kounellis’s explosive arrival into the art world. Incorporating a seemingly arbitrary and autonomous assemblage of letters, words, numbers and signs, similar ‘alphabet paintings’ were made for his frst one-man show, held at the Galleria La Tartaruga in Rome in 1960. Although it was sculpture that would come to define his practice, to this day Kounellis still describes himself as a painter and his works as paintings; it is fittingly prophetic that he should have announced the beginning of his artistic journey with such primary semiotic elements. Using the most basic components of language (letters, numbers, and simple signs) broken down into their constituent parts and then re-composed according to a striking, complex and seemingly unintelligible order, Kounellis was both deconstructing the conventions of language and announcing a powerful new poetry.

    As Adachiara Zevi has written of these works, ‘Fragmentary, displaced, turned upside down, they escape from the support to arrive in space like the stuttering of a new language yet to become a whole. Their random character, however, is only apparent. The letters are all the same size and impersonally painted. Both abstract and spatially undefined, they translate the introverted space of Pollock’s dripping into the public space of urban signage’ (A. Zevi, ‘An Engaged Modern Painter,’ Jannis Kounellis, exh. cat. Modern Art Oxford, 2004, p. 16). Allied in social spirit to Arte Povera, Kounellis was reacting against the prevailing tendencies of Abstract Expressionism and art informel where the action, emotion, touch and will of the artist are inextricably interwoven with medium and form. ‘The history of art,’ he affirmed, ‘cannot be separated from the history of society’ (J. Kounellis, quoted in R. White, ‘Interview at Crown Point Press,’ View, vol. 1, no. 10, March 1979). Kounellis’s arrows and letters, while seeming to encompass the brokenness of post-War Europe, point to the thrilling new directions that one of the most varied and important artistic careers of the century would take.

    Special Notice

    Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.


    Private Collection, Rome.
    Acquired from the above by the present owner.


    Rome, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Roma Anni '60: Al Di Là Della Pittura, 1990-1991.