By David Walsh
Elizabeth tells me Jannis Kounellis is dead. I already knew that, obviously. It demoted Putin and Trump to the second page of the National Enquirer. She wanted me to write a blog. Coz, you see, I like death. And Kounellis, who was alive, now isn’t. But I don’t really like death that much, and even though I’ve only met him twice, and haven’t seen him for years, I would prefer him to be alive.
He came to Mona, and he put a knife and a couple of goldfish in a bowl. People complain incessantly about that. Because the only reason that we should torture animals is for food. Entertainment, or social commentary, or art—that’s just indulgent. Our goldfish go home to a bigger tank, but that isn’t good enough. Our fish atrocity would only be appropriate if we ate them. There is no other way, as we all know, to get calories. No one has ever survived longer than six seconds without eating meat. Did you know that six seconds is the attention span of a floret of broccoli?
Kounellis also ruthlessly sacrificed lassos to the temple of art. The aesthetics are irreproachable, and we rarely take that work down. Elizabeth said that work, and the fish and the knife, are free of the ravages of metaphor. Knife constrains fish, rope restrains bull, art maintains ethics. Except when art persecutes goldfish.
Or meat. Occasionally, when perverse whim pervades, loops of rope are replaced by sides of beef. Few moral issues here. The meat was made to be murdered. A few sides of beef among the millions bred to be cooked medium rare. But hung on the Mona wall carpaccio. Just to show our sophistication.
Kounellis is dead. But he is so recently dead he is still meat. If his body, his corpse, the meat of him, were here, I would hang him from a hook. But it wouldn’t be him, it would be a metaphor for him: his art, his life, his greasy greatness.
There on the hook, not wriggling, not creating. There would be all that remains of a man, an artist, a husband, an adopted Italian, a Greek denier, who taught me to look beyond the superficial. He helped me to see the links in the chain that bind us to iniquity, but are all the more stifling because of their invisibility.
Eat your meat. Dine on Jannis Kounellis’s corpse. But be sure to free the goldfish.