Sunday, 2 May 2010

The Jannis Kounellis litmus test

I like to play a game when I go to exhibitions – to try and guess what the artist is on about by simply looking at the art. This is the test of ‘good’, ‘successful’ art according to some critics, so I thought I’d try out the theory during my first visit to a Jannis Kounellis show at Ambika P3 gallery in Marylebone (on until 30 May). 

Looking round, I jotted down some notes: ‘reminds me of a past time’, ‘fits with the industrial-looking space’. The main installation (above) is like a coal train and standing next to it you can feel its gravity. The black fabric stretched across it looks like the curtains you get in the theatre. In the adjoining space, smart black coats hang in a sort of locker room – entering it there's a sense of isolation and it reminds me of London's banking culture. I especially liked the silk negligee strung up by a metal hook and wire – perhaps a feminist comment? But, what does all this mean? I'm still thinking about it – a sign of a good exhibition.

Upon reading the literature afterwards about Kounellis, a Greek artist living in Rome and a proponent of the Arte Povera movement (which is, in part, to do with using "found", recycled materials), I found that many of my observations were correct. He chooses the locations for his work carefully, having shown in warehouses, churches and castles before, he likes to integrate theatre into his work and the smaller pieces here symbolise human presence and man's existential difficulties. 

Kounellis, you've passed the test. I didn't need to read all your brochures to get some understanding of your work.  

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