This untitled piece, one of the landmarks of the Greek artist’s work, consists of two adjacent walls covered with stones that have been partially coloured by soaking in black paint. The wooden structure with a shelf on the shorter wall is, in fact, the vertical beam of a cross. The work, executed in the mid-1980s, when neo-Expressionist painting was at its height all over the world, seems to offer a subtle response to that situation, not directly, but through the application of the artist’s theories about concepts such as contemporaneity and style. It is no accident that in the 1970s Kounellis and other Povera artists rejected painting, which they saw as linked to a retrograde stylistic coherence, a product of the past. Kounellis said that style was a hackneyed simulation of a unity that had already been lost and therefore had to be left behind and supplanted by a notion of broken landscape, whose only cohesion was the vitality of the fragment, the real vestiges the fragment evoked when transmuted by the artist. In this work, it seems that Kounellis is responding to the debate that pictorial—and, to some extent, sculptural—postmodernism stirred up about readings of the past and their power to intervene in the present. However, that analysis gives the impression that it does not end there, since it also refers to a ‘supposed’ need for eclecticism in order to cover historical concepts, as maintained by many postmodern critics of the 1980s. Kounellis seems to be suggesting the importance of a ‘historical metrics’, neither quantitative nor linear, which flows ceaselessly in the artist’s vision. The artist himself has pointed out that he considers his works visionary, and classifies himself as ‘an ancient man and a modern artist’. The historical time of the material and the perception of his own contemporaneity (‘I think with my eyes’) in a living space are two of the main characteristics of Kounellis’s work. Undoubtedly, this work reflects many of the artist’s concerns, such as the concept of universal reference (the stone wall, a trace of Judaeo-Christian history, and the vertical wooden beam of a crucifixion structure), which Kounellis does not hesitate to situate in the framework of ‘humanism’: ‘Humanism is not a period; it is a cultural constant, a perspective on man, a philosophy,’ he said in 1988. At the same time we can also note his interest in what Gloria Moure has called ‘an agglomeration of stage material that serves as a landscape.’ His works, which are usually installations with a large spatial volume, play with eccentric, dislocated visions. This is achieved not by the way they move through space, but rather based on the interplay of the materials he uses and the way they are arranged. The concept of staging reflects the artist’s determination to recreate certain emotions by theatrical means, to ritualise them, to bring together life and history in a dialectic framework.
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