Jannis Kounellis

Biography of Jannis Kounellis

Famous pioneer of Arte Povera, Jannis Kounellis, was famed for his ability to question the values of established cultural and industrial institutions. Born in Piraeus, Greece in 1936, the artist endured World War II and the Greece’s grueling Civil War before moving permanently to Italy in 1956. Although briefly moving to New York in 1958, Kounellis always lived in Rome until his death in 2017.


Jannis Kounellis’ first exhibition was at the Galleria la Tartaruga in Rome in 1960, and consisted of black and white canvases with stenciled letters and numbers. It was not until after 1966 that Kounellis began bypassing his painting practice and began using humble materials such as coal in his work. Such a move precipitated his association with Arte Povera, a movement first identified by Germano Celant as a shift away from flat surfaces to installations. One of his most famous works was executed in Rome in 1969, entitled Untitled (12 Horses), the iconic work harnessed 12 horses to the walls of a garage with a tiled floor. After the work was shown, art could be anything, as long as intensity separated it from reality.


Focusing on alienation in modern life, the artist Jannis Kounellis drew upon primitive human values and the human objects that measure those values. Combining art and history with the directness of the present, since the 1970s he became adept at making use of the materials of contemporary life, combining them with the values of the pre-industrial world. Such diverse fragments come together to form an evocative and distinct meaning in Kounellis’ oeuvre.


Hugely popular on the international art scene, Jannis Kounellis played a prominent role in documenta in 1972, 1977, and 1982 and featured in the Venice Biennale on more than seven occasions. In 2007 the artist had a major exhibition at the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin. And in 2009 Kounellis had a major show at Tate Modern in London. He is in the permanent collections of prestigious institutions around the world including MoMA, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum both in New York and the Centre Pompidou in Paris. He died in 2017.

Available Works: 7

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