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New works by Jannis Kounellis, master of Arte Povera, on view in China for the first time

November 29, 2011

A close up view of an art installation by Greek artist Jannis Kounellis. EPA/HOW HWEE YOUNG.

BEIJING.- Art Povera and its representative Jannis Kounellis may sound strange to Chinese audiences. Yet Art Povera has been widely acknowledged as a hugely influential school in art history. As an internationally renowned artist, Kounellis is highly acclaimed for his achievements. Some of his works are regarded as significant connecting points in art history. In 1967, works by Kounellis first became typical of Arte Povera and they were internationally recognized in first contemporary Italian art movement. In late 1980s, his works were well received in many large events in Europe to an extent that current dancers and musicians were influenced as well. As an artist who is mostly seen in important museum exhibitions all over the world, he has attended Venice Biennale 7 times. From 1972 – 1982, he attended Kassel Documenta on invitation for 10 times. From 1970s until now, his works have been on show all around the world, including Tate Gallery (UK), Museum Ludwig etc.

Chinese audiences still have not witnessed the original style of the acclaimed “most important master of art coeval with Joseph Beuys” out of many reasons. They can only approach this master and Arte Povera through related publications, foreign exhibition visiting and so on in most cases. Translating China, the first large solo exhibition by Jannis Kounellis, opened in Today Art Museum in a solemn way. This exhibition is one of the key international art projects organized by Today Art Museum. Freshly new creations by Kounellis in Chinese context are exhibited.

Translating China Solo Exhibition is the first solo by this representative of Arte Povera. It is planned by Huang Du, the famous curator. The show is held on 2nd and 3rd floor of Hall 1, Today Art Museum. On 4pm, November 11, the first batch of audiences entering 2nd floor, Hall 1 are astonished by a huge installation: construction forms similar to Greek design or Great Wall crenel are made of tin boxes; on top of which is pile of coal; iron sheets inlayed with fragmented pieces of porcelain of different sizes are suspended irregularly. A solid sense of power fills this installation. 11 installations in plane surface are placed in the secondary hall which is made from materials chosen in China: lantern, solder coats, brush pens, jute bag and so on. Works in the hall on 3rd floor fall into three parts: first part is a K-shape installation put together by 9 iron tables, atop are over 4600 transparent glasses filled with Chinese white spirit; second part is a series work on clothes made up by 24 components by fixing clothes of different styles and colors on steel sheets by steel wires. Third part is Kounellis’ literature; 47 prints (by screen printing) covering his typical works from 1966 – 2005 and 5 documentaries on Kounellis.

Huang Du (curator) has said: “Kounellis has been concentrating on black and white all along. It’s the first time that we see such rich colors.” The biggest highlight of this solo exhibition is its uniqueness – Kounellis has conducted specific and dedicated display design in accordance with space of Today Art Museum to emphasize the connection between art works and exhibiting space. In addition, all installations shown in this solo are completed in Beijing. New works reflect Kounellis’ new findings after his field survey, deep thought and analysis in China. His translation of China explains profound theories in simple language to capture the inner connection of reality, tradition, memory and context in an energetic way. He pays much attention to interesting objects which occasionally come to his sight, for example, he happened to see some pieces of porcelain in Beijing’s antique market and they were bought immediately as materials for his creation. He sees pieces of porcelain (substance) itself as language and concept. Works made from pieces of porcelain are then under the direct and free imagination, thinking and judgment of audiences. Different from the concept of Chinese artist that fragmented porcelain is originated from criticism, Kounellis’ collection and recovery of porcelain pieces are out of love. He has constructed beautiful forms from porcelain pieces in a subjective way, similar to the visual tempo of letters and musicals.

In 1967, the term Arte Povera was put forward by Italian critic Germano Celant to describe the styles and concepts of current young Italian artists. Art Povera means that artists choose industrial wastes, everyday natural material or other often neglected materials as representing media to highlight the contrast of their weight and structure and to praise the meaning of form itself.

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