Constantin Xenakis

Constantin Xenakis

Greek / French
1931 - 2020


Constantin Xenakis was born in Cairo in 1931. In 1946, as a student in the Department of Commerce at the Ampeteios School of Cairo, he devoted himself to sports and painting. His contact with Egyptian, Greek and Arabic cultures played a decisive role in his career. In 1953, he followed painting classes through correspondence with the ABC School in France and, in 1955, he moved to Paris where he studied at the Department of Interior Architecture and Decoration of the École Supérieure des Arts Modernes. In 1957, he was admitted to the Paris School of Fine Arts, which he left after a while in order to pursue studies at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière and the Notre Dame des Champs de Paris under H. Goetz. In 1958, he created abstract expressionist paintings and, since 1960, he turned to lyrical abstraction, emphasizing on the inwardness of the colors. He later enriched his practice with characteristics of geometric abstraction and repetitive features while adopting a structural logic and mechanical kinetic values that were not limited to two-dimensional surfaces but produced environments and events that organized space utilizing objets trouvés in combination with sculptural and pictorial elements and electromagnetic objects. Through his subsequent creations, links between art, science and technology emerged, encouraging the spectator's experiential involvement. In 1963, he participated in the French Pavilion at the Paris Biennale and, in 1967, at the international group exhibition Superlund organized by Pierre Restany at the Konsthall in Lund, Sweden. He also participated in the exhibition Light and Motion at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. In 1968, he became a member of the Salon de Mai Administrative Committee in Paris and participated in the international group exhibition entitled Expansions et Environnements: Le décor quotidien de la vie en 1968 at the Galliera Museum in Paris. In 1969, he became a member of the Founding and Selection Committee for the Vitry-sur-Seine Painting Prize. In the same year, he organized the happening EK-STASIS with electro-kinetic sculptures, electro-acoustic music and with the participation of mimes, which functioned as an ever-changing ensemble that addressed all senses. In 1970, he was awarded a scholarship from the D.A.A.D Arts Programme in Berlin and exhibited traffic cones and spatial interventions at the Malmö Museum in Sweden. A year later, he exhibited flaming cones for the first time at the Goethe Institute in Athens in a remarkable for its time event, aiming at awakening and, by extension, rendering artists’ expressive independence. During the same period, he taught at the Schiller College in Berlin and, since 1972, he devoted himself to the creation of his own expressive language through signs-signals and communication codes, such as in his works Trouble de sens de la vue and Asphyxia III. He later combined shapes deriving from the human figure, road traffic themes, letters from various alphabets with geometric elements, and produced compositions that are distinguished for their poetic and mystical character, as well as their logical organization. Experimentation and the incorporation of elements from different cultures into his work are fueled by a deep need to communicate and formulate a universal visual vocabulary. In 1973, he taught at the École Normale Supérieure de L'Enseignement Technique in Cachan, France. In 1980, he was awarded a research scholarship from the French Ministry of Culture and, in the same year, he participated in the exhibition Maps and Figures of the Earth at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Since then, the use of codes in his work has increased, with emphasis on color values, ideograms and types with elliptical features, such as in the artwork Codhommes, 1983. In 1986, he was conferred the distinction of Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French State. Two years later, he participated in the Arts Olympiad in Seoul where he received an honorary distinction. In 1990, he began exhibiting the series under the title The Book of Life (1995, 1997, 2003), where he summarized his restless spirit and all of his pursuits. In the same year, the filming of Constantin Xenakis: Présence du signe, produced by ACM Film, began. In 1995, his monograph was published by Parousia publications and, in 1996, he was awarded the Prix Delmas by the French Institute. Major retrospective exhibitions of his have been held at the Musée des Beaux-Arts (1996) in Alexandria, the Hanager Arts Center (1997) in Cairo, the State Museum of Contemporary Art (2003) in Thessaloniki and the Municipal Art Gallery of Chania (2009). He lived in Paris and Athens. He passed away on 6 June 2020.