Jannis Kounellis in Six Acts – Walker Minneapolis – October 14, 2022 – February 26, 2023

On October 14, the Walker Art Center will open the first U.S.-based retrospective in 35 years on the work of influential Arte Povera artist Jannis Kounellis (1936–2017), whose wide-ranging interdisciplinary practice examined critical questions about culture, nature, and humanity. Titled Jannis Kounellis in Six Acts, the exhibition will feature 50 works from across every major stage of Kounellis’s career, including works that will be shown publicly for the first time. While Kounellis’s work has been presented extensively in Europe, especially in his adopted country of Italy, the artist has remained lesser-known in the U.S. The forthcoming retrospective introduces new audiences to Kounellis’s practice, which remains deeply relevant to contemporary art dialogues, and offers new scholarship that enriches global understanding of his innovative vision and approach. Jannis Kounellis in Six Acts will remain on view at the Walker through February 26, 2023 and then travel to co-organizing institution Museo Jumex in Mexico City.

To celebrate the opening of the exhibition, the Walker will host an After Hours Preview Party on October 13. The evening, which provides audiences with an opportunity to see the exhibition before the public opening, will feature live music and DJ sets, a drop-in art-making workship, and light fare.

Additionally, on October 14, at 5:00 pm, the Walker will host a panel discussion that examines the impact of the artist’s multi-decade career on art and creative and social dialogues today. The conversation will include exhibition curator Vincenzo de Bellis; Mary Jane Jacob, director of the Institute for Curatorial Research and Practice, School of Art Institute of Chicago; and Dieter Roelstraete, curator at the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society, University of Chicago.

“Jannis Kounellis is a giant of art of the 20th century. He has influenced many emerging artists in his more than sixty-year career. His first show in the U.S. was in 1972, and I cannot think of a better moment than on the 50th anniversary of that presentation to finally give him the exposure in this country that he so richly deserves,” said de Bellis. “Kounellis is also traveled all his life, from one country to another, to fulfill his dream of being an artist. His works speak to memory, history, and migration—things which are very important and resonant today.”

Although Kounellis’s practice embraced found objects, sculpture, installation, and performance, he always referred to his works as paintings, viewing the incorporation of different media and approaches as a means of transcending painting’s boundaries and joining it more actively with life. Rather than unfolding chronologically, Jannis Kounellis in Six Acts is organized in six thematic sections that explore the artist’s material and conceptual innovations and evolutions.

Kounellis was born in Greece, but spent the majority of his life in Italy, having moved to Rome in 1956 to attend the Accademia di Belle Arti. His earliest works, which he began exhibiting in the late 1950s, featured letters, numbers, and symbols that referenced advertisements, newspaper articles, and street signage. These large-scale canvases and works on paper reflected Kounellis’s innate interest in merging the experience of painting with the experience of life. By 1966, this driving vision led Kounellis to incorporate found objects such as burlap sacks, coffee, earth, fire, and gold, into his canvases, further liberating painting from its traditional confines. This gave way to Kounellis’s work with live animals, and in 1969, he presented one of his most iconic living installations at the Galleria l’Attico in Rome. It featured 12 horses positioned within the gallery environment. The work leveraged the energy of the living beings, transforming the gallery context and making visitors an active part of the experience. Kounellis’s ongoing revelatory engagement with humble materials, nature, and the confluences of art and life made him a central figure in the Italian Arte Povera movement of the 1960s and early 1970s.

From the 1980s onward, Kounellis continued to build his vocabulary of materials, introducing smoke, shelving units, trolleys, blockaded openings, mounds of coffee grounds, and coal, as well as other indicators of commerce, transportation, and economics. He also continued to experiment with and embrace elements of performance that brought the viewer into active connection with his work and the ideas of memory, history, language, and nature that were central to his oeuvre for over five decades. His profound career-long examination of the relationships between nature, culture, and humanity makes his work incredibly resonant in contemporary art dialogues and influential to generations of artists.

« The Arte Povera movement played a critical role in redefining artistic practice, with central figures like Jannis Kounellis breaking down boundaries and establishing new vocabularies through their experimentations with performance, installation, and found materials. These actions shaped contemporary art as we understand it and continue to influence the work of artists today,” said Mary Ceruti, the Walker’s Executive Director. “From its founding, the Walker has been committed to presenting daring work and championing visionary artists. This includes a long history of presenting and collecting the work of Arte Povera artists, and so it is deeply fitting that the first major U.S. show of Kounellis’s work in decades be organized and presented at the Walker. We are very much looking forward to engaging audiences with his poetic and compelling career, through the exhibition and catalogue.”

The exhibition, co-organized with Museo Jumex in Mexico City, is curated by Vincenzo de Bellis, the Walker’s former curator and associate director of programs, Visual Arts, who worked actively with the Estate of Jannis Kounellis and Archivio Kounellis to assemble an exhibition rich in both iconic and rarely exhibited works, making it one of the most comprehensive showings of the artist’s work to-date. The exhibition was further supported by William Hernández Luege, curatorial assistant at the Walker. At Museo Jumex in Mexico City, the exhibition is curated by Kit Hammonds, the museum’s chief curator.


Jannis Kounellis in Six Acts is accompanied by a major publication, the first comprehensive assessment of the artist’s work to be assembled by a U.S. museum. The richly illustrated volume, which contains many never-published archival materials such as personal photographs and unpublished artists texts, is produced by the Walker’s award-winning design studio. The catalogue features essays by exhibition curator Vincenzo de Bellis; Ara H. Merjian, professor of Italian Studies at New York University; Claire Gilman, chief curator at the Drawing Center, New York; and Kit Hammonds, chief curator at Museo Jumex, Mexico City; as well as a selection of the artist’s writings, selected by Archivio Kounellis president Michelle Coudray and edited by Walker curatorial assistant William Hernández Luege.

Jannis Kounellis, Lunedi, Martedi, Mercoledi – Photo: Courtesy Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. ©2022 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SIAE, Rome.

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