1 2 H O R S E S -
HOMAGE TO JANNIS KOUNELLIS
twelve paintings . oil on canvas . life-size . IN PROGRESS
homage to Jannis Kounellis' "Untitled - 12 Horses" 1969, Rome
The Horse has been represented in the History of Art by almost every culture in every time period. In 1969, Jannis Kounellis (member of the Italian art movement Arte Povera) brought twelve living horses inside a gallery space in Rome, creating an awkward, dreamlike experience and a very re-interpreted image of the Horse in an art context. Lara Nickel's homage consists of twelve life-size horse paintings - all painted realistically with white backgrounds which mimic the “neutral” gallery wall. They are displayed in a similar manner to Kounellis’ live horses: positioned on the ground and installed perpendicularly to the wall so they appear to be standing in the room, making the architectural space itself the setting of the painting. Not all of the paintings are clearly visible from the front of the room, requiring viewers to walk in between the paintings in order to properly see them. This display exposes the backs of the canvases - something often ignored in the tradition of painting, but which is the very structure of a painting's three dimensionality.
Perhaps the most famous piece of Arte Povera and of Kounellis, his twelve live horses were perceived more like livestock and less like the noble, majestic and symbolic animals that we associate with in classical painting and sculpture. Absurd, temporary and unsellable, his piece critiqued the art market and questioned what mediums are acceptable as art (living animals vs. bronze, marble, paint...). Kounellis' “12 Horses”, while not physically being a painting, directly referenced the concept and tradition of Painting. It forced the viewer, through the Art Historically loaded subject of the Horse, to think of Painting beyond its material aspects of paint on canvas and consider it through its other qualities - as drama, space, feeling, composition, subject matter, theatre, idea. The live animals brought blunt visibility to the normally invisible architecture and “empty” space, making it one of the seminal examples of installation art. Kounellis' installation also complexly functioned as a two dimensional painting - the frustrating inability to enter the area between the horses (due to potential physical danger) flattened the entire exhibition space. Space itself became something solid, something to look at (rather than be in) in the same way one looks at a painting.
Lara Nickel's “12 Horses – Homage to Jannis Kounellis” references several ideas in Kounellis’ original piece concerning the conceptual definition of Painting as well as how the literal object of paint on canvas interacts with space and time. Because Nickel's paintings are posed in an anti-classical manner (independent from the walls and yet anchored to them like Kounellis' horses), they contradict the pre-established image of the Horse in Art as it is known through classical sculpture and painting. These representational paintings are experienced from many angles, as if they were sculptures, while simultaneously being illusionistic representations. Like Kounellis' piece, Nickel's installation activates the traditionally neutral space of the gallery through a feeling of uneasiness. Because the canvases designate and define the space, the entire physical expanse of the gallery belongs awkwardly to the paintings and not to the viewer. This display comments on how Painting is a fundamental concept - a painting carries an image but is not limited to the image. Using Kounellis' original piece as an art historical backdrop, these paintings are not only portraits of horses but painting-as-illusion, painting-as-object, and painting-as-situation.
“12 Horses – Homage to Jannis Kounellis” portrays diverse breeds of horses, deliberately presented in classical and nonclassical poses. It brings together several equestrian organizations (including the Manade Laurent from the Camargue, France; the Palio in Siena, Italy; the Cadre Noir in Saumur, France; the Garde Republicaine in Paris, France) and various iconic and anonymous horses from the American west.
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