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.
- 1925 Panayiotis Vassilakis is born in Athens on October 29.
- 1952 Builds his first studio in the Anakasa neighbourhood of Athens.
- 1954 Moves to Paris and created his first sculptures out of forged iron.
- 1955 Stages his first one-man show Figures in Plaster and Iron at the Hanover Gallery, London.
- 1955 Has the idea for his celebrated Signals series as he is waiting in Calais station for the train back to Paris.
- 1958 Inspired by magnetic fields, he incorporates magnetism into his work. Creates his first Télésculptures .
- 1960 Presents the performance L'impossible: Un Homme dans l'Espace at the Iris Clert Gallery, Paris, during which he reads his famous Magnetic Manifesto.
- 1960 The French Ministry of Industry awards Takis a patent for his works Télésculpture (1959) and Telesculpture Electromagnetique (1959).
- 1961 Creates his first Telelumieres.
- 1964 Works begins on his country house on Gerovouno hill, Attica, while he is still resident abroad.
- 1965 Creates his first Musical sculptures.
- 1968 Receives a scholarship from MIT; the research he conducts there inspires his Hydromagnetic Sculptures.
- 1969 Co-founds the Art Worker's Coalition with other artists and art critics to defend artists’ rights.
- 1974 Creates his first Erotic sculptures.
- 1983 Creates the sets and music for a production of Sophocles’ Elektra directed by Michael Cacoyannis at the ancient theatre of Epidaurus and starring Irene Papas.
- 1984 The French Ministry of Culture awards him the title of Officier de l'ordre des arts et des lettres.
- 1985 Takes first prize at the XII Biennale de Paris with his installation Espace Musicale.
- 1986 Founds the Research Center for the Art & the Sciences (KETE).
- 1987 Creates Luninous Forest, which consists of 39 Signaux Lumineux positioned along the Esplanade—Bassin de la Defense, Paris.
- 1988 Receives the Grand Prix de Sculpture in Paris
- 1991 The French Ministry of Culture awards him the title of Commandeur de l'ordre des arts et des lettres.
- 1993 The National Gallery of Jeu de Paume stages its Takis Retrospective in Paris.
- 1993 The French Republic honours Takis with a special issue stamp depicting his Spiral.
- 1995 The President of the Hellenic Republic, Konstantinos Stephanopoulos, awards Takis the title of Commander of the Order of the Phoenix.
- 1995 Represents Greece at the XLVI Venice Biennale, where he declares "I am a citizen of the world" and decides to exhibit his works in the open space in front of the Greek pavilion in an effort to symbolically remove borders in art.
- 2001 The European Parliament awards KETE an honorary plaque for Takis’ innovative Electric Barrels.
- 2011 His Wind Sculptures are shown in the gardens of the Palais Royal. The French Minister for Culture, Frederique Mitterand, praises Takis in his speech at the exhibition's opening.
- 2015 Palais de Tokyo organizes a retrospective exhibition entitled “Takis, Champs Magnetiques”.
- 2019 He receives an Honorary Doctorate from the Athens School of Fine Arts.
- 2019 The artist's largest ever exhibition, entitled simply “Takis”, is staged at Tate Modern, London; the show also travels to the MACBA, Barcelona.
- 2019 Takis passes away a month after the opening of the exhibition at Tate Modern.