'In the 1960s, I was designated as an 'artist' because no-one knew how to define a heap of coal. But I'm a painter, and I lay claim to my initiation in painting because painting is the construction of images, it doesn't indicate a manner, even less a technique. Each painter has his own way of seeing and methods of constructing an image, and the common approach which consists of associating traditional art with the word 'painter' and an anarchistic, modern and experimental role with the word 'artist' is ridiculous. Jackson Pollock was a painter who reinvented the American space with morality. Mexican murales are paintings, Duchamp himself was a painter. Liberalism has given painting freedom as far as the imagination can go, and has re-endowed the artist with a fully intellectual role' (Jannis Kounellis, quoted in L'Élémentaire, le vital, l'énergie: Arte Povera in Castello, exh. cat., Vence, 2004, p. 57)
With its progressive sequence of nine lead panels pinned onto a single burlap canvas support, made from shipping sacks, draped over a heavy iron panel, Untitled is a 'painting' made by Kounellis in 1986 that poetically uses materials to expand itself into the physical space and time of the viewer.
In the strictly formal manner in which it has been constructed - using a sequential progression of different forms and materials on a flat surface - this work is one of several Kounellis 'compositions' that not only seems to invoke the rigid formal logic of the painter's art, but also seems to paraphrase and even mock it. It does this by manipulating the strong material presence of its 'real' elements drawn directly from 'real' life to both articulate and undermine the innate artifice of its flat two-dimensional painting-like surface, while, at the same time, invoking a wider world of potential. Drawing on several elements, materials and motifs that have appeared with frequency in Kounellis' work since the 1960s, his work invades both the senses and the memories of the viewer. Its use of a simple vocabulary of familiar and elemental materials that never fail to impress with their scale weight, texture and smell, also, in later works such as this, prompt memories and associations of how Kounellis has used them in the past.
Memory and repetition are two of the cornerstones of Kounellis' oeuvre. Most evocative in this respect in this work is his use of a chain of empty hanging scales positioned to hang in the space in front of its near-flat picture plane. These scales recall Kounellis' first use of them in 1967, where pyramid-like piles of fresh ground coffee were placed on each, creating a strong and pleasant aroma - an unquantifiable and immaterial experience - wholly at odds with the quantifying, measuring devices from where it originated. In the present work of 1986, pregnant with a sense of gravity and weight, like so much of Kounellis' work, this sequential chain of light and empty wire scales seems to offer both a parallel and a contrast to the sequential ordering and progression of numbered lead panels and flat, empty burlap sacks pinned to the monumentally heavy iron panel. Kounellis' play of contrasts between the weight, fullness, spatial and formal arrangement of very different, very ordinary and, especially within Kounellis's work, very familiar and wholly autonomous materials, consequently imbues this work - though structured like a conventional painting - with a profoundly mysterious and metaphysical sense of form and space.