Kounellis Jannis (1936 - 2017)

He was born in Piraeus in 1936. In 1956 he went in Rome, where he studied at the Academia di Belle Arti, and has since settled in the Italian capital. He also presented there his first solo exhibition (La Tartaruga, 1960). In his early works, clearly influenced by the Italian avant-garde spirit (Burri, Fontana, etc.), he portrays symbols of mass urban civilization – numbers and letters – on monochrome surfaces.
Over the next few years he departed from the traditional representational media, and since 1967, after participating in the exhibition “Arte povera e IM Spazio” at the Galleria La Bertesca of Genoa, he was associated with Arte Povera and was named one of its key representatives. Even in the early period of his art he used objets trouvés and ‘humble’ materials (soil, coal, hessian sacks, wool, iron, stone, etc.), but also live animals, fire, gold, etc. Gradually, he created a new artistic language, which combines various expressive media with many constructional, theatrical and ritualistic elements, organized in large multifaceted installations.
Without ceasing to define himself as painter, he embarked on a radical revision of the concept of the painting work, where form retains its aesthetic role and its interpretive power, but also acquires life and motion, demands the viewer's participation and intervenes in the spatial architectural structure. At the same time, he conveys the experiences and concerns of the artist on the various aspects of the day-to-day reality, with references to the social and cultural history and a poetic view of the human existence.
He has presented numerous solo exhibitions in Europe and the U.S.A., held at key art galleries and museums. He has also participated in group exhibitions and international events, such as the Paris Biennale (1967, 1971, 1969), Documenta (1972, 1977, 1982), the Venice Biennale (1972, 1974, 1976, 1978, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1993), the Istanbul Biennale (1993), the Sydney Biennale (2008). Since his first solo exhibition in Athens (Bernier/Eliades Gallery, 1977), he exhibits in Greece quite regularly. In 1994, he presented a retrospective exhibition on the cargo ship ‘Ionion’ at the port of Piraeus. He has also organized major shows in Athens: At the National Museum of Contemporary Art in 2004 and the Cycladic Art Museum in 2012. He has been granted an honorary doctorate by the Architecture School of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (2006) and the Athens School of Fine Arts (2009).