TABLE OF CONTENTS

PRINT October 1983

THE COLLISION AND THE CRY: JANNIS KOUNELLIS

In 1957 Pier Paolo Pasolini published Le ceneri di Gramsci (Ashes of Gramsci), an anthology of poems that reflects the dramatic search of a generation reaching out to assume the role of the intellectual—that entity suspended between the tension of social problems and the aspiration of personal identity. The next year Jannis Kounellis made his first urban icons, followed by his letter works in 1959. His conflict between internal questioning and outer, social projection was full of implications: considering the relentless involution of visceral and gestural discourses—in neodecadent literature as well as in the paintings of Franz Kline and Cy Twombly—it had to be based on an acceptance of these inherent fundamental contradictions. Instead of avoiding this crisis and retreating into the pathology of the ego and ephemeral calls to action, Kounellis sought clarification in artistic writing—an ideal form tense with historical meaning—which is capable of both accepting and transforming context. Rather than adding to the Modernist tradition of decomposition which Pollock embodies, he attempted a creative verification of logical, historical, and rational values of everyday life—that experience of the world based on polis. Following examples ranging from Giovanni Botero to Antonio Gramsci, who recognized the essentially political aspect of the city, Kounellis immersed himself in the city to extract from it a calligraphy and a magma of moral, poetical, political, and fantastical factors with which he might begin to express an autobiographical outburst and an explosion of private anguish. He derived a “public” image using painting for social celebration and edification—large canvases with letters and urban signs in black enamel became “Roman scrolls” to be read in public and disseminated throughout the community.

With the advent of technology and industrial production, the old civil unity had been broken. These scroll paintings reflected a civilization of ruins and fragments, of words and fractured signs. The breakdown of associative ties created difficulties and this presence of linguistic ruins was to be taken as the material of a continuous process of historical interrogation of the difficulties of the present. Tied to the universality of street language as much as to the archaism of a hidden world embodied within the indecipherable writing, but revivable through the song and music of the contemporary poet, the paintings were rooted in the historic avant-garde. What emerged was the loose, nonhieratic rhythm of the letters and fragments of signs that refused compositional formality in favor of spatial freedom. Pictorial images, natural documents, or casts of statues interfered, intensifying and facilitating the articulation of whole entities. What was the subject then, and what prevails today, was and is the tension—from the unresolved contradictions between utopian dream and regressive temptation which coexist in the emblematic, enigmatic world of art language.

In the course of his work Kounellis has always soughtto translate the music of the dream into the rationale of life and history. The force that circulates in his works from 1958 to 1967 represents a laborious attempt to maintain a common language, gathered together and united, despite the impact of mass production. The profuse industrialization of art which caused the accelerated recycling of artifacts and the consequent illusion of scarcity required attention. This was a dramatic time, when conflicting and nondefined motives were intertwined but where the end result remained dependent on the survival of a critical integrity, in opposition to the consumerist ambiguity of Pop art and the rigidity of Minimalism.

Kounellis’ response, beginning in 1967, was to convey a sense of continuous transformation in his work. His refusal to finalize his artwork allows him to “never surrender” (Pasolini) and to maintain the tension that underlines the public credibility of art. The roses and live canaries that Kounellis used in a work from 1967 passed over the threshold of the world of painting and sculpture, and giving himself over to the collective identity—“messengers of intelligence, the birds are the unforgiving conscience” (Pasolini)—Kounellis sought to delineate a vision of artistic community in which one could seek full and sincere relationships. However, in opening up new meanings based on an alliance between collective and individual conflicts, an unrestrained passion for the unique—the rose—stood out in its freedom and had to remain in a state of freedom, part of the community—an I/we who recognizes the duplicitous character of the intellectual identity. What perhaps defined this drama in its essence, what contemporaneously was developing in his work in theater (in the scenic materials for Tadeus Rozewicz’s play The Witness, 1970) and in his art, were the union and conflict between the individualpersonality and the delirium of the group.

This fluctuating opposition between autonomous beings and community was in resonance with those disquieting years of 1967–68, when “revolutionary passion” came alive. As a conscious public personality Kounellis shared in the responsibility; he participated with utmost concentration, extraordinary energy, and historical awareness. This was a period of absolute contrasts, when diverse orders of a radically heterogeneous reality emerged for the artist. It is no accident that at the same time the two contradictory but complementary aspects of Western culture, Europe and America, began to emphasize their conflicts and to delineate the political and moral differences in their customs and attitudes. Loaded with insurrections and involutions, Kounellis’ work of these two years—from the live parrot in a 1967 painting to the 12 live horses that appeared in a gallery in a 1969 piece—embraces the ’60s’ confrontation with a troublesome world, characterized by an artistic situation that was as problematic as it was rich with ideal provocations. His trolleys with their loads of coal and sacks became instruments of attack, “vehicles of war” whose uncontrollable force was capable of sweeping aside any conservative obstacle. The nature of their strength was continually renewed, rethought and modeled by the conflict between the actors of the theater and the voyeurs of the shows. From that time on Kounell is’ artistic representation has become social “re-presentation.” While the location may change, each new situation must reformulate his convictions, and therefore his work has changed, since the world that inspires it has changed. This explains his reinstallation, sometimes with only minimal alterations, of works already realized in other situations, such as the walled-up door, the fires, the table with fragments, and the smokestacks. Representation, like modification, implies a continuity of contents and a tie with a variety of structural connections which lend credibility to the history of the artist and to the art.

In 1969 the emphasis was on collectivity, but the epic hero remained a problem, and had to be buried within the collective identity. The conflict between the external, collective consciousness and the private will was articulated by grass-roots movements and the women’s movement. Kounellis’ fires in Paris and then in Lucerne and Ghent indicated the suspension of egoistic thoughts and an awareness of a communal obligation to sustain a public totality. His comrades-inarms were Joseph Beuys and Mario Merz, Luciano Fabro and Marcel Broodthaers, Pino Pascali and Daniel Buren. The function of the fires was timely and called to mind the passion and heat of the energetic trauma of ’68 as well as suggesting a need to revivify art. They formed a procession of “fellow companions and enunciators of a wisdom drawn from the deepest bosom of nature” (Nietzche). In history the fire is above all a sign of the oracle and its prediction for the future, as well as the primordial principle of all transformation. Associated with prophecy, the fire in Kounellis’ work is placed at eye and ear level, thus blinding the observer and making audible the prophetic music. The torches are not fixed, but hang on hooks; the fire can be taken as transfiguring energy, to cut and break up the rigid and inauthentic structures of the polyhedrons and the slabs of gray iron (a continuing reference to cold Minimalism and to American mechanistic industrialism) that imprison the forces of “hot” culture typical of southern Europe, Africa, Asia, and South America—which is represented in the work by the parrot, the cotton, and the cactus.

Kounellis’ use of a creative weapon demonstrates his responsibility to that time and bears witness to a potential for change that can be unleashed only through the collective consciousness, as seen in the tragic fires. (A similar chorus of torches accompanied the desperate monologue of Didone, the theater piece he did in collaboration with the dramatist Roberto Lerici and the director Carlo Quartucci.) Analogous observations can be made about Libertà o Morte W Marat W Robespierre, 1969, as well as about the metallic screens with fires, cotton, and flames. But along with statements of hope, other works, also of emblematic generosity, indicate an immediate and almost complementary failure wherein pessimism followed the explosion of the preceeding two years; they show the art community sharing the dream but forced to succumb as society remains unchanged. If the collective destiny was utopia, the arid safeguard of its territory prevailed. While Kounellis presented the fires and the horses, with their social and sensorial import, he simultaneously nourished a detachment from the chorus. In San Benedetto del Tronto he closed off a room with stones, blocking access to the space. This work both reflected and in part fought against a defensive tendency which, if it appeared negative at the time, would in the ’80s take on the ideological and cultural dimension of a denunciation and testimony against the catastrophe of art, seen in the defeated attitude of what would be called the new painters. The walled room offered a multiplicity of possible meanings which were to be elaborated in successive works. Above all, the obstacle placed between inside and outside was decidedly a wound. It embodied both an opposition to and a negation of art’s religiosity, as well as an intolerance for its religious spaces. This was a statement of denial and disorder. In delimiting a function for art and in denying it a sacred role, the work took on ulterior social and political meanings. In 1969 the impact of this was polemical, but it would have ended up being reductive had Kounellis considered the work only in an antiexpositive fashion. In successive installations, though, the logic of denial was transformed progressively into a series of evocations of the original mythology—of the forms of intervention of art in the city.

Realized for a group show in San Benedetto del Tronto in 1969, “Al di là della Pittura,” and then repro-posed in Cologne in 1981 at “Westkunst” and emphasized by the opposing walls of Berlin in the windows of “Zeitgeist” (1982), the walled doorway tends to establish a separation and a dissociation from any grouping. In its ephemeral apparition it establishes neither active contact nor confused or stable interactions with other exhibited works. Rearticulated according to the geographic location with varying assemblages of stones, from the chaotic grouping in Rome (1971) to the ordered construction in Mönchengladbach (1978), the piece observes in silence the passage of art movements. It is freed from them and sets up an antithesis, an immobility which, in recalling more intense historical passions and sensations, contrasts with the models of rapid consumption incarnated in large exhibitions. Its public survival, in fact, renders it hostile to insignificant changes, affirming a faith and belief that, with the isolation and closing off of the place of pleasure,catches both the spectator/voyeur and the artist off balance.

This work also clarifies the dimensions of an art space that is capable of resisting the circulation of goods; it defends its integrity and its legacy that cannot be impugned by the mobility of consumption by showing that if art is not mere outline and decoration, it must be a concrete support. The superficiality of a temporary and ephemeral vision is, therefore, left to the white wall upon which paintings and drawings slip and slide, pleasing without being engaging. On the one hand is the stone wall, sign of an artisan and peasant culture; on the other hand is the aristocratic matrix of the stucco and wallpaper of the petit-bourgeois salons. The two spheres are naturally part of the same piece of history; they reciprocally integrate and modify each other. The problems of balance come up not only in the representation of social dichotomy but also in the double role of art, which is left to be observed on the exterior, yet shelters the interior. An artist working in this way must believe firmly in his or her place in history, but at the same time must maintain the distance and convictions of his or her ego in order to be able to change without feeling the weight of individual conflict. Personal sentiment that goes public takes on a social form; and so we have the closed space placed in public. Likewise, one could assume the walled doorway to be a mask with which the artist demonstrates his stable and independent character, and by which he establishes a barrier between the personal and the social. As a mask for the space the door is thus also a face, the throat of the prophet which opens onto the mystery of the art oracle (in 1972 Kounellis appeared in Rome with a gold cast on his lips). This is an expression of the constructive language of the artist, for whom the stones come to be equivalent to the letters and signs of his first works—thus the door might also be interpreted as a “pictorial facade.” The whole, neither proposing nor negating the possibility of crossing over, is an elaboration upon the concept of painting; it denotes a desire for discourse that enlarges not only the context and process of installation, but the chromatic and figurative logic of traditional painting, from Alberto Burri to Robert Rauschenberg, to encompass more material and a greater historical dimension. From 1980 on this particular work, whether in Rome or Baden-Baden, London or Cologne, appears as Kounellis’ pictorial face. Changing with political and cultural conditions, the wall encloses history in the form of fragments of statues, and in its passage from classical texts to expressionist skulls it emits an anguished cry which is repeated by a crowd and an anonymous chorus. A place of contradictions, the wall, then, is not a neutral space, but a view of artistic civilization.

The stones and fragments extend their energy in a centrifugal direction, from the wall out to the rooms, from the rooms to the building, from the building to the city. Thus they propose a concept of art indissolubly tied to relationships of continuous correspondences that always lead to the polis, fulcrum of all political action. And the voltaic arc that is established between interior and exterior reverberates in a wave that touches the “rooms” with sounds and colors, reaching out to the street and the surrounding neighborhood with music and lights. This is how Kounellis’ work must be taken: in his interventions painting becomes a means of architectural and urban aggregation—from the chromatic materials with which he painted the interior of the Attico gallery in Rome (1974) to the gas lamps which illuminated the urban field outside the same building. This game of expansion is also an expression of a kind of persuasion (the roots of which lie in the architecture of Bernini, in the way he utilized a small monument to suggest the space of a piazza). Only through the dialectic between the unlimited expansion and contraction of space, between the visible and the unknown, between the private and the public, can this persuasion express a vision of art that, following the tradition of European complexity, can lead from the polis to the “artistic republic” of Voltaire. Only by taking into account the urban conflicts between old ways and new (gas lamps vs. electric lights, or ancient coal vs. industrial metal) can one achieve a complex view of the world.

Beyond its open and ambiguous oracular function, the dual dimension of Kounellis’ work also serves to articulate the drama of a meeting or confrontation with an extremely tense epoch caught between agricultural and industrial culture, the past and the present, the temple and the skyscraper, in which the American is a native of Europe. If the first stage of expansion occurs from studio to city, then the second stage deals with an osmosis/collision between the large metropolises like Rome and New York, where knowledge is cloaked in diverse and complementary appearances.

In the ’70s Kounellis’ stance confronted the heart of the dilemma between tradition and the avant-garde, with a reciprocal resolution of both. Had he insisted on choosing one or the other, his decision would have been political, with a critical obligation to supply reasons and motives. In 1972, on the occasion of his first public showing in New York, the volumes of stones for the door pieces appeared within open metal polyhedrons, placed face to face. The first of these was elaborated by a raised curtain and hung mirrors. Kounellis appeared, holding a plaster mask of Apollo in front of his face. The second piece included four musical scores incised into the metal and a flutist, face uncovered, who played excerpts from Mozart. The two spaces, mirroring each other but autonomous, underlined the distance and the differentiation between reciprocal cultural positions which, if strictly consistent, were and remain antithetical. The immobile figure with the mask, then, constituted a historical sign for European civilization and city; it presented itself in its fixity, which is the sum and substance of its being—an object of charisma and respect. Thus, it is the image of the past—“I am a force of the past/my love is only in tradition/I come from the ruins, from the churches/from the altarpieces, from the villages” (Pasolini)—which regenerates its mysterious power through a contemporary apparition. In controlled fashion this image indicates the stance of a being who feels Europe at some distance, yet shining forth in its writers and artists,philosophers and political figures—Leonardo, Giordano Bruno, Luther and Macchiavel I i, Newton and Racine, Bach and Stravinsky, Kant and Leibniz, Gramsci and Roberto Rossellini.

This cultural figure in his context is untouched by the anti-European prejudice of American art in the ’70s, which witnessed in reductive stylization (from Donald Judd to Frank Stella) and in technological and mass media realism (from Roy Lichtenstein to Nam June Paik) unique developments of visual transmission. The Apollonian hero did not express criticism so much as availability, for even if he sought shelter behind the mask, his personal feelings of rejection and sympathy wore a historical face which allowed him to maintain an association with the public. Thus at closest reading Kounellis appears to prefer a civic love, and to be interested in presenting himself as a collective personality that embodies the tragic awareness of one who is both witness to and responsible for past and present civilization. Among his sense of responsibilities there also reappeared the will to hold open a dialogue with the New World. The curtain, evocative of a Magrittean “memoire”, was raised to imply the passage between the ancient and the modern, as well as to maintain the tension between the two spheres.

This work, which celebrated the European hero in epic poetic fashion, laden with memories, dreams, and glorious gestures, was juxtaposed with the image of a culture “with its face bared”: the flutist who in his “nudity” served to recall material interests, passions for things external, primordial and young civilization, as well as (in comparison to the complexity of the Apollonian figure) the rigidity and intellectual and moral abstraction of America. The sound that issued from his flute was, moreover, that of the “perpetual infantile felicity” (in Massimo Mila’s phrase) of Mozart’s work. And like the 18th-century composer, the figure of the flutist, too, seemed to believe in luminous and geometric works, in the metal machinery and bodies (the scores were incised in iron) that place the work on the level of Minimalism and conceptualism, from Carl Andre to Joseph Kosuth, with its sequential rhythms and modules, numbers and ideas, perfections and definitions. In this enigmatic conflict between the two figures the tragedy of our present time was enacted. It is, in fact, in the duality and the passage from one figure to the other that the tragic is formed, each side losing consciousness of its position but never giving up its stance. In the passage from one to the other contradictions and tensions emerge which are never resolved nor completely suppressed, but whose meaning must be thoroughly examined. Relieved of questions, Kounellis could decipher a key and find a remedy, but certainly not within the framework of the reciprocal veneration of the two types of “heroes” who, only in the late ’70s, found their way into the magazines, the galleries, and the museums. In 1973 this hypothesis, perhaps utopian, of a rather dramatic dialogue was confronted with a structural crisis of Western society. When the inequalities were reaffirmed by retrenchment each individual was forced to choose his or her own strategy of attack and defense, to hold together the “ruins.”

This violent state appeared in Kounellis’ installation of a sacrificial dinner where the artist, seated with his face covered by a plaster mask, faced a table decorated with fragments of statues and a stuffed crow, all accompanied by the musical presence of a flutist. What immediately became clear was the sense of catastrophe. The shattering of the statues, and therefore of culture, accompanied the death of the crow, symbol of intelligence and lightness. If the compact form of the statue could be conceived as a substratum ideal of civilization, its break-up signified “disaster.” It had been only a few years since 1968, but the hypothesis or the hope for change seemed to have vanished. The parrot’s need for happiness and joy, with its anxiety about a new esthetic existence, was transformed into ruins and into a stuffed crow, while the antagonistic force of history and of art, with respect to ephemeral infatuations, emerged in paintings complementary to the ritual supper, where the eyes and the pictorial surface were covered with a black band.

Kounellis’ intuition about the future developments that occurred in painting were brilliant: the crow is also the bird of bad fortune who witnesses death while its blackness obscures it. The low point of art was near, and with the disappearance of the ancient hero, revolutionary, and warrior in the true civil tragedy that had occurred by 1975, Kounellis paid homage with a wall of gold, whose byzantine force recalls the sacrifice of sacred beings. In the two-year period 1976–77 the putrefying odor of libertarianism was already beingfelt. The immense alternative possibilities and the collective and purifying fires ceded to a nihilistic asceticism. Culture became a cemetery for grand hopes. And now revolution and restoration, enlightenment and decadence, renaissance and mannerism, came to appear strictly related. Something had been broken; society seemed diminished and it seemed impossible to hold together a collective affirmation. Public life began to be considered as a formal fact, something to which everyone submits passively without participating in an investigation of private realm or mass explosion. Narcissistic energies were activated and expressed in monumental paintings in which self-gratification was the only stimulus to satisfaction, naturally to the detriment of the social dimension. This sorry state of affairs did away with art’s symbolic value, concentrating instead on the market for personal sentiments and decor which “pass over” the walls like the events in a Chinese shadow box. One could say that this was the beginning of the elimination of the artistic res publica, unleashed along the magnetic poles of SoHo and Beaubourg, the time of its transformation into a consumer experience, consisting only of the deception and seduction of colors and figures. In Italy by 1977 the development of the “new Italian painters” was already clear, as was the direction.

The communitarian effect was destroyed, and most artists abandoned their common purpose and moved toward fratricide and the struggle between cliques. The crassness was obvious; traumas and personal confessions were unleashed in an auditorium annulled by the rhetoric and the oratory of the apparatus of promotion and production, nourishing, with simulated experimentation, sales and accelerating the “professional” character of art. Moreover, inspired by personal, visceral effects, the work of neomannerist painters began to persuade and to seduce, not so much by what it said as by its “manner.” Modeled after historical prototypes, this painting is tied to a means, but loses the character of an end. This was the beginning of the era in which academia, with its return to order inspired by nationalism, takes on the role of determining the “profession” of the painter. Consequently art is limited to the exaltation of technique and seeks a rhetoric of persuasion that is based only on artifice, which hides, in the process of painting, a paucity of meaning. Trompe l’oeil and monumental ism are presented as a protection against the “heresies” of the preceding decade; the artist’s “revelation” and mystical figurations of the self and the academic tradition result in a removal from civil concerns, substituting for them a creed typical of “counter-reformist” ideologies. Therefore the stance of the artist who believes in the negative, critical function of his work and who sees himself falling prey to a tide of pictorial compromises must be radical, in order to point out the drama of an obscure, black period.

And so, having been exhibited in Rome and New York as an irascible and vindictive knight immersed in a room painted yellow—a sign of the intensity that merges all structures of rigid reaction—in 1976 Kounellis identified weakening political concerns and an internal explosion, seen in a layer of death and restoration that covered another exhibition space in the form of the sooty emissions of a smokestack. First in the gallery, then in the museum, the fire of collective change gave way to the dirt and grease of the private self, produced, in fact, within the smokestack. In addition to emptiness and absolute passivity, the accomplished and unchanging state of immobility, the black also recalled definitive loss without a future. For Kandinsky this was “nothingness without possibility, a dead nothing, after the death of the sun, an eternal silence without even the hope of a future.” The absence of a future view is a consequence of a return to the univocal character of painting and sculpting, which present themselves in their traditionalist modes to go on a backward route, as if history were always the same. These artists declare their interest in the “memory” of laws and of order, and base the innovative quality of their work on an evocation and remaking of “dead art,” from Marc Chagall to Ottone Rosai. It is no surprise, then, that the cultural conformity of the “new painters” was seen by Kounellis as a tombstone for the howling chorus of flames, the protagonist of the ’70s. And if the neomannerist involution swallowed up the public function of art, the open spaces of the museums and galleries no longer made sense. They were dead and destroyed, becoming a black ruin where exuberance had died.

In Turin in 1979 the formulation of this tragedy—social and cultural as well as artistic—was elaboratedby an ulterior definition. Above an urban landscape, framed by charcoal portraits, birds pierced by arrows signaled the end of any lightness and any liberating imagination. Their destiny, from the uncontrolled singing of the canaries to the cadaverous crow, was complete. The messengers of the unknown and the dream were killed by “thinking” and by “painting,” as well as instantaneously by the arrows. The logic of exuberance and of an international civil vision had now been decimated. The only movement permitted was that which occurs within the small country where the genius loci is exalted in the micropolitics of its desires.

But is it really possible to stop this falling apart, to stem this return to local and personal description? Or has there never existed an expressive variant that has used an internal explosion to denounce rather than to concur with a historical crisis? And since an investigation that believes in the mirroring of anxieties and feelings does not occur in an empty social space,might not personal self-realization serve to raise new questions about the erosion of public life, as shown in historic expressionism? Kounellis answered these questions in the affirmative, turning his attention to such artists as James Ensor and Edvard Munch, who with their attitudes and anarchic violations indicated society’s catastrophes. Kounellis’ re-evaluation of expressionist anarchy, from Ensor to Anselm Kiefer, was accompanied by the return of the chorus of fires. In 1977 in Lucerne the artist appeared in a mask painted yellow in a room with a row of torches hanging at eye level along the wall; among the torches hung a painting by Chaim Soutine. The presence of Kounellis himself, his face covered by the forms of tradition and myth but transformed by the yellow (which in chthonic rites signifies a triumph of maturity and the harvest, recalling the drama of the daily existence of the intellectual who historically has had a permanent public presence), never vanished into oblivion. And just as the tragic hero doesn’t exist without collective testimony, Kounellis’ call to political and social responsibility coincided with the reappearance in his own work of the chorus of fires and the historical continuity of artistic engagement in the painting of Soutine. The inclusion both of the yellow mask and of the work by Soutine, an Expressionist painter who was fascinated by Rembrandt, Courbet, and El Greco, kept alive the syntony of historical evocation as well as the memory of a painting tied to Emil Nolde and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner—which,in fact, had influenced the Roman school of Gino Scipione and Mario Mafai, provincial fathers of the Italian neoprovincials of the ’80s. The passion for a visionary struggle, in which the mask of chromatic intensity becomes decidedly critical, violent, and anticonformist, was emphasized in two works, one a landscape that alluded to the painterly atmosphere of Ensor and the other based on the scream of Munch. The latter was evoked as though to share in his anguish, now transferred to the particular social and psychological conditions of 1978. Fears and obsessions about the entry of artistic “marionettes” into the cities of art, from Rome to New York, from London to Berlin, again came alive for Kounellis, so that after a decade he could once more propose another wall—a horde of faces and Munchian larvae. Here it was no longer the astonished glance and the hallucinatory cry that occupied the wall, but rather a graphic sequence of rectangles which formed a disquieting and aggressive stream. The walls of the room and the gallery seemed transformed into accumulations of skulls and bones which recalled the religious cemeteries of Palermo, while the hard, dull lines of the strokes implied the interpolation of the ego into a dramatic, static state, and the lips emitted only horror and fear at the narrowing down of the alternative project which bourgeois neo-individualism had diminished to a paper surface.

This is an apocalyptic view of the artistic situation at the beginning of the ’80s. Helped along by the hundreds of wide open mouths whose repetition makes one think of the proliferation of “subhuman painting,” consumed in the name of a sensual-mystical ecstacy and visceral transcendence, this visual declaration by Kounellis can be considered a cry of alarm and rebellion.

This spectral reality is summoned up not only to recall a condition of decay and crisis, as in the ’20s and ’30s, but also to establish a “bridge” between the pictorial traditions that have believed in the expressivity of the individual as a conscious participant in collective humanity. And so Munch was evoked for reasons of critical creativity, in opposition to the rigidly formalist hypotheses, typical in Europe and America, of the neo-mannerists and neo-fauves. In comparison to the Minimalist and Pop artists, Kounellis stands out because he doesn’t work with “verisimilitude” and the “historicism of the ancient,” but focuses on what happens in the here and now. He registers its causes and, like Caravaggio, makes a composition within reality itself. So there is neither detachment, nor objectification, nor contemplation, so much as the praxis and furor of a commitment to create as the tragic conscience of a contrast between internal and external, between being and otherness.

This is art as a collision and a cry, which searches among the facts for the point of fracture and boundary, for the point where the fury of the individual crosses into history and the social realm in opposition to and criticism of the monstrous universe of conformity.

Germano Celant is a Contributing Editor of Artforum.

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.