After Hours and some behind the scenes of Jannis Kounellis in Six Acts

Here’s an idea for art openings … have the folks who are normally behind the scenes give mini tours. Last night I attended After Hours opening of Jannis Kounellis in Six Acts exhibit with my friend Damian, who worked on the installation. I got an inside scoop that made me appreciate the art even more.

Kounellis is a Greek artist, very big in the Arte Povera in the 1960s and 19070s. Arte Povera (poor art) features everyday objects in a in scale and structure that sets them apart. Kounellis’ work includes large letters, sails from boats, rocks as well as glassware and a toy train. The individual works of art are reconstructed for each show. Some pieces are impossibly large scale and yet meaning can be in the tiniest nuance or detail. So much of the exhibit is recognizing when you look at the whole and when you focus on minutiae and why.

Not being an insider, I often wondered how plug-and-play these large-scale art exhibits were. Is each work preserved in a box and carefully opened once in the gallery? Are they recreated using Legoland-type instructions? Is that bag of coal really a bag of coal or is it half tissue paper and only coal near the top? I got a lot of answers last night.

Q: Is that bag really full of coal?

A: Yes it is. And the coal in the middle of the bags is real too. It’s heavy and dirty. The crew wore masks when constructing the work and looked like coal miners in the end.

Q: Are there specific instructions on how and where to set objects?

A: This is a yes and no and led to questions I didn’t even think about. There are some instructions but a lot of he work is based on looking at pictures from past exhibits. (Although sounds like during this installation, a lot of work went into taking good notes for the next guy.) The artist’s family was apparently involved as well. That’s helpful for getting a feel for what the artist was trying to convey but also the added pressure of wanting to do right by the family. (Another work was on loan from a private collector, who was also very involved with the particulars of the recreation of that work.)

There was a very large work of wood placed into a large vertical metal frame. Those pieces came in five boxes and were recreated from pictures and loose markings. Imagine Ikea if they used oak and iron!

Another work included a wall full of glassware on shelves, much like you might find at  Vincent de Paul charity shop. It was cheap glassware that is now unwrapped by people wearing gloves and seen by fancy people in art galleries. That image feels on brand for the exhibit – uplifting and celebrating the ordinary without losing the humor of the absurdity.

Q: Is that coffee and do you unpack it in a pyramid?

A: It’s coffee (and in a similar work it’s sulfur) and each pile is painstakingly rebuilt from scratch. It takes packing it down, patience and eventually letting the grounds fall into place. An amazing example of art demanding attention in the creation, it captures the attention. This is an exhibit that hard not to want to touch. (I didn’t!) The objects are ordinary so it feels safe, but presented in new and unusual ways so it’s tempting to want to touch them to see if they are real, to see if they feel different in this new iteration.

Just a few answers there but it gave me a glimpse of art that I rarely see.

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