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The Calm and Controversy of 12 Horses in an Art Gallery

Jannis Kounellis’s “Untitled (12 Horses)" at Gavin Brown's enterprise
Jannis Kounellis’s “Untitled (12 Horses)” at Gavin Brown’s enterprise (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

For a gallery with 12 horses and a line of visitors stretching out the door, Gavin Brown’s enterprise is exceptionally hushed. The restaging of Jannis Kounellis‘s 1969 piece “Untitled (12 Horses)” opened Wednesday and is only on through Saturday as the West Village gallery’s final hurrah before relocating uptown to Harlem.

When I asked gallery owner Gavin Brown what he thought it meant to bring these live animals into the space as art, he said: “I don’t think it’s about anything.” He added that it’s “more through the coverage than the art” that the piece takes on a meaning more than what it is, saying that the press reactions were part of what drove the crowds lined outside the building.

Jannis Kounellis’s “Untitled (12 Horses)" at Gavin Brown's enterprise
Jannis Kounellis’s “Untitled (12 Horses)” at Gavin Brown’s enterprise

The display of animals as art has sparked complaints that the horses tethered to the walls weren’t able to move freely. However, Robert Clemens, who was visiting the exhibition on Friday and has had 17 horses, noted that the setup wasn’t at all different from a horse stall where they wouldn’t be able to turn around, and the concrete floor covered with rubber for their hooves was likewise much like good horse accommodations. “There’s nothing out of the ordinary going on here,” he said. Joe Andoe, an artist who regularly paints horses, said he wasn’t surprised about the turnout for the rare close encounter with the animals in Manhattan, and that he’d “heard they were going out of their way to take good care of the horses.”

On entering, visitors are advised to keep their voices down and stay a distance from the animals, something which attendants were enforcing. The space is cool and still, and the horse’s sleek bodies of rippled muscle and smooth manes are illuminated by the skylights. Similar to the original 1969 staging of the Kounellis piece at Rome’s Galleria L’Attico, there’s a consideration of the art in the beauty of an animal like a horse, which artists have been drawn to since the Lascaux caves were painted. Yet there’s also something absurd about their calm presence in this white-walled gallery space.

“It’s so quiet,” Melanie Kress, a curatorial fellow at Friends of the High Line, remarked after seeing the horses. “Having fallen in love with that piece in art history class, it’s still stunning.”

Jannis Kounellis’s “Untitled (12 Horses)" at Gavin Brown's enterprise
Jannis Kounellis’s “Untitled (12 Horses)” at Gavin Brown’s enterprise
Jannis Kounellis’s “Untitled (12 Horses)" at Gavin Brown's enterprise
Jannis Kounellis’s “Untitled (12 Horses)” at Gavin Brown’s enterprise
Jannis Kounellis’s “Untitled (12 Horses)" at Gavin Brown's enterprise
Jannis Kounellis’s “Untitled (12 Horses)” at Gavin Brown’s enterprise
Jannis Kounellis’s “Untitled (12 Horses)" at Gavin Brown's enterprise
Jannis Kounellis’s “Untitled (12 Horses)” at Gavin Brown’s enterprise
Jannis Kounellis’s “Untitled (12 Horses)" at Gavin Brown's enterprise
Jannis Kounellis’s “Untitled (12 Horses)” at Gavin Brown’s enterprise
Jannis Kounellis’s “Untitled (12 Horses)" at Gavin Brown's enterprise
Jannis Kounellis’s “Untitled (12 Horses)” at Gavin Brown’s enterprise
Jannis Kounellis’s “Untitled (12 Horses)" at Gavin Brown's enterprise
The line for Jannis Kounellis’s “Untitled (12 Horses)” at Gavin Brown’s enterprise

Jannis Kounellis’s “Untitled (12 Horses)” continues at Gavin Brown’s enterprise (620 Greenwich Street, West Village, Manhattan) through June 27.

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