By Costanza Beltrami

The Art Newspaper reports that Jannis (or Gianni) Kounellis, a Greek artist who moved to Rome at the age of 20, died yesterday (16 February 2016) at the age of eighty.

Kounellis was one of the leading figures of the Arte Povera Movement, which originated in the late 1960s as an attempt to break down the dichotomy between art and life through the creation of happenings and sculptures made from everyday materials.

Although Kounellis established himself as an artist within the Arte Povera movement, his oeuvre is very varied and difficult to schematize. As he said, “there are far fewer certainties today… It is one of the reasons for fragmentation, one of the impossibilities of having a style because the certainties are occasional…” For example, between 1963 and 1965 Kounellis painted simple everyday words and fragments of musical scores, but later realized that painting could not capture contemporary society and moved on to the production of assemblages. In these works he used extremely disparate objects, combining the organic and inorganic, for example coal containers, bags of coffee, cacti, stuffed birds and flowers. He choose these objects for their symbolic function and placed great care in the practical execution of his artistic ideas. Differently from other Arte Povera artists, he did not emphasize the brutal materiality of everyday objects, but strove to give them a living and almost mythological value.  

Reference: “KOUNELLIS, Jannis or Gianni.” Benezit Dictionary of Artists.  Oxford University Press,

Untitled, 1968, wood and wool. Tate Modern, London, inv. T07074. © Jannis Kounellis.

Untitled, 1960-98, steel panel, enamel on paper on 2 canvases, fabric, coal, 3 metal hooks and metal rod. Tate Modern, London, inv. AR00068. © Jannis Kounellis.

Untitled, 1969, stone. Tate Modern, London, inv. AR01136. © Jannis Kounellis.

Untitled, 1969, burlap and beans. Tate Modern, London, inv. AR00069. © Jannis Kounellis.

Untitled, 1971, oil paint on canvas and wooden chair. Tate Modern, London, inv. AR00497. © Jannis Kounellis.

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