Jannis Kounelis at White Cube Mason’s Yard, London SW1

I’ve seen a lot of shows this week so these next few post are going to focus on just one or two works. This was another show that underwhelmed me. I was initially attracted to the large black-on-white stencilled pieces, with letters and numbers. But in real life, I didn’t understand them.

Here are two works which did interest me, although in both cases it is because of particular associations I bring which Kounelis could not possibly have known about.


This is Senza Titolo 1996. Steel compressing coal – a material he used a lot – and some rags. But in the week of the 50th anniversary of the Aberfan disaster it had particular resonance. Any British person of my age will think only one thing if they hear the name ‘Aberfan’: the day in 1966 when a coal-mine waste tip slid down a hillside and overwhelmed a primary school, killing more than 100 young children and 20 adults. This piece fixes an image of fabric = clothes = bodies forever held and crushed by coal and cold hard metal.



The gallery notes say of this pair of ink drawings from 1980: ‘a crowd of faces appears like a detail of some greater scene, as if this bulging crowd is limited only by the edges of the paper itself.’ But what I see is a horribly prescient echo of a monument in the Killing Fields near Phnom Penh, Cambodia, which contains a column of skulls in a vitrine: the faces of the lost.

While it is inevitable that the viewer brings their own experience to the viewing, and in this case it produced in me a stronger attraction to the works, I feel uneasy knowing that this is true for viewers of my work!