Born Panayiotis Vassilakis in Athens, Takis (1925–2019) spent more than seventy years expanding the purview of art and taking it into domains that had previously been the preserve of experimental physicists. A leading figure in the kinetic art movement of the 1960s, he made sculptures, paintings, performances and sound works, incorporating invisible forces - and especially magnetics, his lifelong subject of study - as a fourth dimension.
His many works involving electromechanical devices, often salvaged from army surplus stores, include the ‘Signals’ series: antenna-like sculptures topped with metal shapes or flashing lights that sway in response to the most imperceptible vibration. Takis also created reliefs, paintings and self-performing sculptures that use magnets to animate metallic objects suspended near their surfaces. Another series, entitled ‘Musicals’, consists of automated instruments which employ electromagnets and electric guitar pickups to create reverberant sounds which the artist called ‘raw music’.
Takis was an autodidact and self-professed ‘instinctive scholar’, but his accomplishments led to an invitation to conduct research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1968. He drew on technological discoveries, ancient philosophy and Zen Buddhism to develop unique, and often mystical, forms which embody time, space and energy.
Active in Paris, London, New York and his native Greece, Takis met the Beat poets, the Beatles and Marcel Duchamp, who called him a “happy ploughman of magnetic fields and signalman on soft railroads”. Over the course of his career. Takis channelled aspects of his research into social spheres, regarding his discoveries as forces for peace and healing. In 1960, he launched his own version of the Cold War space race ahead of Yuri Gagarin’s historic flight a year later, using magnets to suspend the poet Sinclair Beiles in mid-air at the climax of a public event at which the poet read Takis’ anti-war Magnetic Manifesto. Also, in 1969, he co-founded the Art Workers Coalition in New York, pushing for more artist’s rights and diversity in museums. Until his death, the artist headed the Takis Foundation Research Centre for the Art and the Sciences (K.E.T.E.), which he founded in Athens in 1986 to advance his research and its practical applications for improving the quality and length of life. He also practiced Solar Yoga, a form of his own invention which focused on drawing energy from the sun.
From the 1960s, Takis participated in numerous international exhibitions, including documenta in Kassel, Germany (1977 and 2017), the Venice Biennale (1995), and the Paris Biennale, where he took first prize in 1985. More recently, his work has 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.
Museums that hold his works include the Centre Pompidou, Paris; MoMA and the Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Menil Collection, Houston; Tate, London; and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice. In 1987, Takis completed Foret Lumineuse [Luminous Forest], a multi-part installation of ‘Signals’ in the Espalande de La Défense, Paris, and the city’s largest ever public art commission.