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Jannis Kounellis. Untitled/12 horses. 1969. Perhaps the most celebrated early example of animals-qua-art came out of the Arte Povera movement, the group of Italian avant-garde artists who laid the groundwork for what we would now call “installation art” between the years of 1967 and 1972. Greek expat Jannis Kounellis, a central figure in the movement, took the movement’s use of humble found materials into new territory with this seminal 1969 piece, which simply consisted of a dozen live horses hitched side-by-side to the walls of Rome’s Galleria l’Attico. Both captives and captors of a kind, since their sheer size and physical power had an imposing effect on gallery visitors, the animals were presented as they were, far from visions of perfection in marble or paint. Reactions to the work varied widely, with the horses compared to everything from the Parthenon frieze to rows of new automobiles parked in their bays, although Kounellis himself later said that the work was meant to invoke “the spirit of the Enlightenment.” Re-staged at the 1976 Venice Biennale, the piece was a landmark in performative, time-based installations.

The horse would know, but the horse can’t talk , Lothar Baumgarten, 2002. Fondazione Furla

Joseph Beuys, Iphigénie.
One of Joseph Beuys’ most powerful action events was Titus Andronicus/Iphigenie, performed on 30 May 1969 in the Theater am Turm in Frankfurt, for Experimenta 3. Wearing a fur coat, Beuys appeared on a darkened stage with a shining white horse. He used the myth and the drama of Iphigenia to draw attention to the freedom and the creativity of the individual. Here, William Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus (1589-92), with its excessive violence and cruelty, reminiscent (in the context of this performance) of Nazi crimes, is linked with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Iphigenie auf Tauris (1979), in which Iphigenia — the personification of humanity — redeems her brother Orestes through her love and her forgiveness.
Beuys’ Titus Andronicus/Iphigenie is unquestionably one of the most iconic works in the recent history of art, created at a time when the genre of performance art was just beginning to emancipate itself from classical theatre. Joseph Beuys was its pioneer. The political spirit of the ‘68 movement and its tendency towards the proclamatory fostered this dawning of a new age in art history.

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