Live horses and discarded clothes: as disparate as they may seem, both are elements used in the wildly diverse oeuvre of this unpredictable artist. When talking about the Arte Povera movement, it would hardly be possible to omit the Greek artist Jannis Kounellis (1936–2017). A seminal sculptor and installation artist, Kounellis became a leading figure of the famous and influential Arte Povera moment. While the movement had his origins in post-war Italy, its themes and aesthetics are so clearly embodied in Kounellis’s art after he took up residence Rome in 1956 that he is now considered a pivotal Arte Povera artist.
The living and the lifeless
One of the most distinctive and striking features of Kounellis’s art is his focus on the living and the lifeless, the dichotomy associated with the malleable future and the immutable history. While he is by no means the only artist to be inspired by these contradictions, his use of living elements as part of his works attracted particular attention to his art and his visions. One of the most iconic and famous examples is his controversial and thought-provoking exhibition in which twelve horses are placed in a room and left to act as they please. Other instances of his use of organic or living elements include combinations of live birds, performances of live music by the composer Bach, and sculptures. All reflect Kounellis’s playful ruminations and arrangements of the lifeless and the alive – the constant and the unpredictable.
Viewer interaction shapes the work
In Kounellis’s world, reality and imagination are constantly mixed, and as a spectator you instantly become part of the work as your very presence impacts the art. The ways in which the living elements interact with the viewer and vice versa create a unique art experience every time.