Christmas Greetings From The Circle Of Hell

My BAPS colleague recently wrote about his Don Quixote gallery experience. Well, now I have another literary-esque review to add to the bag: my reverse Dante’s “Inferno” visit to Blain|Southern, where I had to drudge through uninspiring art pieces to then reach a heavenly-peak on the second floor.


I’ve never been to a sex club, but I imagine if I had the feeling of entering would be somewhat similar to the feeling of heaving open the door at Blain|Southern and finding myself confronted by a truly gigantic knife – a little scary, a little sexy, and, ultimately, enticing. And so, feeling appropriately excited, I entered into the world of Jannis Kounellis’ new works. Unfortunately, like so many romantic encounters, what first appeared sexy soon became quite sad, and it was only after plodding through some truly depressing shit that I found some sort of redemption on a higher level.


Is it a Wonderful Life?


The first floor of the gaping, rectangular, post-industrial space featured four pieces strikingly similar in tone. The first included the aforementioned “knife” and consisted of giant blades swinging below towering rebar girders affixed atop rectangular black canvases and spaced at irregular intervals, like the lines one makes on a wall to record a child’s height. The remaining works made use of black wool coats as the primary material. Black wool coats flattened into a serpentine path on the floor, tracing a route between burlap sacks of coal ringing large piles of coal. Black wool coats knotted into irregular bundles, roughly sewn together scarecrow-style and impaled upon meathooks against metal panels. Black wool coats stretched taut, once again sewn together, and collaged onto still more metal panels. Did I mention black wool coats?


jannis-kounellis-4 The many black wool coats and burlap sack housed in Blain|Southern in Berlin. Photo: Chris Phillips


Despite my sincere intention to bring the sexy back, while wandering through these new works, enviably warm as the snow came down outside, I couldn’t help but feel that these coats represented a stark and dreary view of man – downtrodden, crushed, and stretched thin. A sick stench of privilege wafted from the pristine gallery walls and hovered above the world-weary works leaving me cringing and more than a little crushed myself.


Stairway to Heaven


It was only with a trip up to the second floor that I felt the pain of the depressing and rather dull work (which, I have to point out, hardly consisted of the “unusual materials” the gallery promised) dissipate. At the top of the stairs, a low-ceilinged second space contained three giant armoires, hung at angles nearly a foot from the floor as if waiting for Alice and the Cheshire Cat to arrive.


Wandering betwixt and between the former furniture I felt emptied of the weighty cares of the works below, and a childlike sense of wonder crept into my step. Perhaps, I thought, peering over the edge of the catwalk at the collaged coats, which from above seemed more reminiscent of origami flowers than the human centipede, this is how god sees us – a little more distant and a little more lovely than we actually are. And so, if you’re willing to make the trek through a vision of hell to some sort of heaven, it just might be worth the walk.


  • Blain|Southern – “Jannis Kounellis” – November 17th 2012 – January 26th 2013, Tues to Sat, 11-6pm [Price range 125,000-350,000]
Article by Hannah Nelson-Teutsch