Jannis Kounellis at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise




Jannis Kounellis “Untitled (12 Horses)” at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, June 2015.

I first came across Kounellis’ work while I was in Art School in the mid 90’s and it profoundly changed the way I thought about both material and context. There is an elegant simplicity to much of his work that makes what is incredibly straightforward also increasingly more complex, loaded, and mysterious. I am still inspired by many of his works, long after first discovering them, and in all truth I’d never really even considered I might see this particular work in person, but here we are…


I’d heard GBE was moving up to Harlem, but didn’t pay too much attention to dates or other particulars, until I found out that for the farewell to the space they were mounting a very short run of Kounellis’ iconic Untitled (12 Horses) from 1969. I’d also heard about a growing line to get in on Friday, so knowing that Saturday was the last chance, my wife and I made sure to show up early. We saw the empty space getting prepped before the horses arrived, watched as the other curious parties started to show up, and then watched as the artwork arrived. All neatly packed into a trailer. The grooms walked them into the gallery in twos, and afterwards the staff tried to corral the growing crowd into some semblance of order, which was met with far more resistance to very simple instructions about lining up than should be necessary for a group comprised mostly of adults. They had a second line for people with small children, which was really smart, as nobody would have wanted to be stuck in line with a child that was melting down. We stood in line for probably just under an hour before getting in. I’d basically already waited 20 years to see this work of art, an experience that I didn’t think would ever actually happen, so an hour was not terribly relevant at this juncture.


Visual Art, as we have come to call it, is a terribly incomprehensive description of how we understand and navigate the useless things and ideas we place into the space of this world. While we are heavily reliant upon our sight, we don’t often take note of how our other faculties play into “reading” our surroundings. The power of smell to drag memories deep out of one’s consciousness, the scale of a physical relation, the sounds of urban life. There is a whole set of kinesthetic understanding we tend to ignore or overlook regularly. However, when there is something active inside a space, it is charged with a significantly different energy than when you are in a static room. You can feel it with the hairs on your forearms. Your senses are tuned in, even if your head is not. That’s where the power of this particular work resides. That’s the impossible nuance that is created by an artist who understands these things, and is given the opportunity to share this experience with us. This was really something.


Thank you, Jannis Kounellis. Thank you, Gavin Brown’s Enterprise. Thank you, Cheim and Read. You have created something beautiful, something temporary, something that we cannot take with us.

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