Photographer: Manolis Baboussis via Bloomberg

See 12 Horses Turn a Downtown Gallery into a Living Art Installation

Jannis Kounellis's Untitled (12 Horses) marks the end of an era for Gavin Brown's Enterprise in New York’s West Village

The horses arrive at noon, transforming Gavin Brown’s Enterprise gallery in downtown Manhattan into a pop-up stable.

Gallery owner Gavin Brown and artist Jannis Kounellis outside the NYC installation of Untitled (12 Horses).
Gallery owner Gavin Brown and artist Jannis Kounellis outside the NYC installation of Untitled (12 Horses).
Photographer: Katya Kazakina/Bloomberg Business

The influential art dealer, who is closing his space on a deserted block near the Hudson River, has 12 live horses tethered in a cavernous space that has been the gallery’s home since 2003.

Powerful and graceful, the neighing creatures are part of Untitled (12 Horses), a living art installation by 79-year-old Greek-born, Rome-based artist Jannis Kounellis.

Fastened by ropes to the walls, they are stationed around the perimeter of the gallery. The animals snort, nibble hay, and drink water from black buckets. They also relieve themselves—right onto the gallery floor, covered up with black rubber. Three grooms are on hand to attend to their needs.

The space around them is still, at once peaceful and tense. The air is filled with the tart, earthy scent of a stable. The effect is mesmerizing.

“It’s the right moment and the right place to do this,” said Kounellis, speaking through a translator as he sat on a wooden bench at the gallery on June 25.

“This is not very commercial,” he said. “It’s not for sale.”

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The original exhibition at Galleria L'Attico in Rome, 1969
The original exhibition at Galleria L'Attico in Rome, 1969
Source: Gavin Brown's Enterprise and Cheim & Read

Roman Debut

Kounellis originally staged the installation at Galleria L’Attico in Rome in 1969. Untitled (12 Horses) has been on view five times in Europe, most recently in Naples in 2006. At Gavin Brown’s, the work makes its North American debut.

“It represents the return to the purity, the innovative moment of the art of a different time when commerce wasn’t so closely associated with a discrete object,” says Adam Sheffer, a partner at Cheim & Read gallery, which represents Kounellis. “This is truly a definition of art for art’s sake.”

The work also marks the end of an era at Gavin Brown’s downtown. The gallery is moving to Harlem, where it will reopen at 461 West 126th Street in September.

Its 12-year tenure on the outskirts of the West Village has been marked by a number of memorable, unorthodox art exhibitions. In 2007, Urs Fischer dug up a giant pit inside the gallery as part of his artwork titled You. In 2011, Rirkrit Tiravanija set up a soup kitchen for his Fear Eats the Soul exhibition.

Around the Clock

Tiravanija is serving food at the gallery again before it closes—it will remain open around the clock until 10 a.m. on June 28. The horses, however, are on display only until 6 p.m. Friday and again from 12 noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday. During the course of the four-day show, the horses return daily  to their home on a farm one hour away in upstate New York.

Untitled (12 Horses) on view at Gavin Brown's Enterprise in NYC. The horses leave daily at 6 p.m.
Untitled (12 Horses) on view at Gavin Brown's Enterprise in NYC. The horses leave daily at 6 p.m.

Even without the horses, vistors can watch ghostly, black-and-white footage of the Empire State Building projected onto a wall. It’s a remake by the artist Elaine Sturtevant of Andy Warhol’s famous one-shot, 6.5-hour-long film Empire.

The hay and water buckets remain along with the scent of the stable. Like the film, the installation feels as if it's an ode to a bygone era.

“It’s a beautiful work, dreamy and evocative,” says RoseLee Goldberg, founding director of Performa, a biennial performance art festival in New York. “It says so much about the period when it was made and about the artists of that generation, profound thinkers who could care less about the marketplace.”

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