The legendary and unconventional Greek-Italian was a key protagonist of the radical Arte Povera ("poor art") movement. One of his most famous works featured 12 live horses.
Jannis Kounellis, a major figure of the Arte Povera movement, has died in Rome, Italy's culture ministry said Friday.
"It is a sad day, Kounellis has left us. A master, Italian by adoption, who left a mark on contemporary art," Italy's Culture Minister Dario Franceschini said in a tweet.
Born in Piraeus, Greece, in 1936, Kounellis moved to Rome at the age of 20 to study at the Academy of Fine Arts. A 1969 exhibition in the city's Galleria l'Attico, where he put 12 live horses on show, made him famous.
The artist regularly worked with "poor" materials - coal, jute bags, steel, piles of stones - and was admired for his challenge to Pop Art and 1960s American hegemony in the arts.
Arte Povera - a radical movement that challenged the status quo - emerged in the 1960s during a period of social upheaval in Italy. Dubbed "poor art" to signify its anti-elitist protest against consumerism, it put Italy in the vanguard of the international art scene.
Kounellis' dark and obscure works combined organic and inorganic materials, featuring for example cuts of meat hung to rats' cages or materials such as propane torches, smoke, ground coffee, lead and recycled wooden objects.
eg/rf (AFP, EFE)