21 November 2020 – 27 February 2021
White Cube Hong Kong
Explore an online version of this exhibition HERE
Featuring sculptures drawn from a thirty-year period – from the end of the 1960s to the 1990s – it showcases the late Greek artist Takis (1925–2019) and his committed exploration of art and science. Takis carved out a new aesthetic territory, incorporating invisible forms of energy such as magnetic, acoustic or light waves as the fourth dimension of his work.
Born in Athens, Takis (né Panagiotis Vassilakis) took art into realms that were previously considered the domain of physicists and engineers. Describing himself as an ‘instinctive scientist’, he harnessed foundational forces to generate the forms, movements and sounds of his static and kinetic works. Magnetism, including the bioelectromagnetics of the human brain, fascinated Takis and was a constant subject of study, not least when he was visiting researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the late 1960s. An important figure in the cultural scenes of New York, London and Paris, he associated with a diverse group of writers, musicians and artists including the Beat poets, The Beatles and Marcel Duchamp, the latter dubbing him ‘the ploughman of magnetic fields’.
The exhibition begins with Vibrating Vertical Line ECG – V.Si.245 (1966), a multiple featuring an oscillating iron wire set in motion by a miniature electromagnet, highlighting the artist’s wish to push beyond the forms of the traditional art object while revealing the enchantments of science. An assemblage of various found elements, it evinces Takis’ frequent forays into army-surplus stores from the 1950s onwards, where he found a treasure trove of discarded technologies that could be incorporated into his art.
Works from Takis’ antenna-like ‘Signals’, an ongoing series produced from the 1960s to the 1990s, are also presented in the exhibition. These slender, totemic-like sculptures, inspired by radar and radio installations, oscillate or vibrate in response to any movement in the exhibition space. Several are topped with flashing coloured lights, broadcasting his energies in the form of light and chiming with the prevailing concerns of current Pop and Op art.
Takis’ two- and three-dimensional works from the 1960s, termed ‘Télé-Peintures’ or ‘Télé-Sculptures’ (from the Greek word tēle, meaning ‘at a distance’) by French critic Alain Jouffroy, incorporate magnetism into their forms. The kinetic sculpture Electromagnetic Sphere (1970), for example, features a white sphere suspended from the ceiling by a wire, which itself dances around an electromagnet set on a floor-mounted black disk. Other works, including the two ‘wall paintings’ Mur Magnetique (1970), and Magnetic Wall – the 4th Dimension (1997), or the sculptures Magnetron (1968) and Magnetic Relief (1976), employ magnetism to suspend objects above or on their surfaces, making perceptible the invisible energies so central to human existence.
Sound was an equally key element of Takis’ explorations and features in one of his early ‘Musical’ works from 1966, part of a series he made while living at the Chelsea Hotel in New York. In this sculpture, a freestanding panel of wood is fixed with an electrical circuit, a needle and a cord to illicit a form of ‘raw music’, a term for the artist which signified the sound of the cosmos, and a form of audio which often accompanied his exhibitions.
Takis was a contemporary of kinetic sculptor Jean Tinguely and an occasional rival of Yves Klein and, like them, he had a radical streak. He regarded political and social spheres as part of his artistic repertoire, whether in street-art fireworks, using magnetism to suspend a human in space or through co-founding the Art Workers’ Coalition and in his own Research Centre for the Arts and the Sciences in Athens. His analogue experiments and masterful amplification of the fundamental forces of the universe can be seen to reflect on our physical condition – held in suspension by the forces of gravity and kinetic energy – remaining none the less powerful in the digital age.
Born Panagiotis Vassilakis in Athens, Takis (1925–2019) lived and worked in Paris, London, New York and his native Greece. Since the 1960s, Takis has exhibited widely, including Documenta in Kassel, Germany (1977 and 2017); the Venice Biennale (1995); and the Paris Biennale, where he was awarded first prize 1985. More recently, his work was featured in important solo exhibitions at MACBA Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (2019); Tate Modern, London (2019); Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2015); and the Menil Collection, Houston (2015). He also received patents from the French government for his ‘Télésculpture’ and ‘Télésculpture Electromagnétique’, static and kinetic forms of sculpture animated by magnetism.
Born Panagiotis Vassilakis in Athens, Takis (1925–2019) spent more than seventy years expanding the purview of art and taking it into domains previously belonging to experimental physicists. A leading figure in the kinetic art movement of the 1960s, he made sculptures, paintings, performances and sound works incorporating invisible forces as a fourth dimension − especially magnetics, his lifelong subject of study.FULL PROFILE