The Centro Arti Visive Pescheria of Pesaro celebrates its 20th anniversary with two new installations by Jannis Kounellis, who discusses with the director Ludovico Pratesi how the works were born.
A singular parade, made up of a convoy of carts covered by men’s coats moving along a circular track, drawn by a horse. A powerful and intense image, almost like a funeral procession, repeated without direction or time.
This is the work with which Jannis Kounellis has chosen to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Centro Arti Visive Pescheria of Pesaro, inaugurated in 1996 inside two adjoining spaces: an arcade with columns open on two sides, where the fish market was once held, and a former 17th-century church dedicated to the Confraternita Santa Maria del Suffragio, the only one in Italy that is twelve-sided in shape. Both spaces have hosted exhibitions by important international artists – such as Enzo Cucchi, Tony Cragg, Giuseppe Penone, Candida Hofer and Jan Vercruysse – as well as events by prestigious Italian photographers, like Gabriele Basilico, Luigi Ghirri, Mario Giacomelli and Antonio Biasiucci. Various up-and-coming Italian artists – like Giovanni Ozzola, Pietro Ruffo and Alice Schivardi – have created their first public projects in the Pescheria, which had the honour of being among the founding members of AMACI, the association of Italian contemporary art museums established in 2003. Today, thanks to constant efforts on the part of the City’s administration, the Pescheria hosts two new installations by Kounellis that interact with the surroundings in an incisive way, activating a broad range of symbols.
“Art is presentation and not representation,” states Kounellis. “For me, an exhibition is a unique act: occupying a space for the time needed for this unique act, as they say in the theatre. I think this is how it works for exhibitions. And the artist’s ability is to have, or reclaim, the all-time protagonist. My problem is to rethink the rebirth of drama as something positive. Indeed, this is my intellectual and ideological problem.”
A definitive, radical stance that has led Kounellis towards involved art, of great symbolic value, as is evident from his works made for the Pescheria, which are both powerful.
“The first thing that struck me was the church, with its particular geometry, which gave me the idea for the circular tracks that have neither a beginning nor an end.” The image of the singular convoy calls to mind the industrial world from the past century, the trains of miners, the tragedy of coaches heading for concentration camps as well as the dramatic train accident in Puglia. The fundamental issue is relating to the spaces, which aren’t empty but instead retain memories and are inhabited by ghosts. Ghosts condition your acts, hinder an imagination that is too free and not bound to the memory of places.”
How do you see this work? “It’s an endless ritual, and reminds me of funerals in Naples.” Dark colours and materials, like horses and coats, are often present in Kounellis’s works, but are used in different ways, just as in the work made for the Loggiato: a series of swings hanging from the trusses on the ceiling with coal sacks required to “polarize the space”. Near the swings, on the ground, are some industrial air conditioning ducts covered with white canvas. They compose “a landscape of bodies with a flight of crows”, as the artist suggests. In this case, too, the installation contains some elements typical of Kounellis, who actually considers himself a painter, “not like a craftsman, but as a ‘zoograph’, which in Greek means ‘one who draws images’”. Today, he makes only sculptures and installations, but his first works were paintings: white canvases with road signs and letters painted in black. “My early works were born in a small flat,” he recalls, “and not in a studio. In my first paintings, letters danced in space”. After spending his youth in Greece (where he was born in 1936), at the age of twenty Kounellis moved to Rome, where he currently resides.
So why this journey? “When I cross 2,000 years of history, from Athens to Rome, I do so to appropriate Renaissance art and connect it to the Greek culture of my origins. I don’t leave anything behind, and I can move beyond. But in order to move beyond, I need to be whole.” In Italy, Kounellis discovered the Renaissance, and above all Masaccio, who became his reference point. “The Renaissance idea of perspective is an ideological invention, just like Masaccio, who is the diapason of painting.” What is an artist’s role? “It’s related to drama. An artist must emotionally move people, because emotions are man’s freedom.” So he must create visions? “Exactly. Unfortunately, today the economy and the art market have killed visions. The task of artists is to salvage that ability to create sense through their visions.”