Stephen Antonakos

Stephen Antonakos

Greek / American
1926 - 2013


Stephen Antonakos was born in Agios Nikolaos, in the mountainous region of Laconia, in 1926. In 1930, he moved with his family to New York. There, he began drawing, when he was still an elementary student which he continued during junior high school. He also worked in advertising as not only as an advertiser but also as an illustrator, while in his studio he designed and painted human figures in architectural environments. He often used fabrics in collage, appliqué and embroidery techniques. In the early 1950s, he began experimenting with found objects (objets trouvés) and with different colors, patterns and stylistic combinations. In 1956, he traveled to Greece and was impressed by the particularity of the landscape and the intensity of light. Upon his return to New York, geometric shapes and the study of color as well as the morphology of objects acquired a major role in his work. From the late 1950s up until the early 1960s, he produced three-dimensional constructions such as boxes referring to small shrines, assemblages and collages of sails with stitches, glue and nails. When he moved his studio near an area of textile and fur traders, his works’ dimensions grew even more. His first solo exhibition, under the title Collages, took place in 1958 at the Avant-Garde Gallery in New York. In 1960, he became one of the first artists to incorporate neon lighting tubes into their work, a medium of expression that later evolved to be crucial to his career. Its innovative use by Antonakos lied in the fact that he extracted its functional connotations, which were interwoven with trade, and highlighted its expressive capabilities and the effects of light on human perception in a skillful and abstract way, going back and forth between line and volume, painting and sculpture, and indoor and outdoor space. During this period, he participated in the exhibitions New Forms, New media I and II at the Martha Jackson Gallery, along with artists such as Lee Bontecou, Yves Klein and Claes Oldenburg. Since 1963, he started designing neon works on an architectural scale for specific spaces. His work The Blue Box, 1965, shows his growing interest in architectural forms. At the same time, he taught at the Brooklyn Museum. In 1964, he presented the assemblages of the series Pillows in a solo exhibition at the Byron Gallery. In 1966, when he collaborated with the Fischbach Gallery, he met the art historian Naomi Spector, which he would later marry. He also participated in the exhibition Kunst Licht Kunst at the Stedelijk van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, The Netherlands. In 1970, he participated in artist residencies such as the ones of the University of North Carolina, Yale University, the University of Wisconsin, Fresno State College. At the same time, he created the interactive series of works Packages meant to be opened and packages meant never to be opened which he presented in Fresno in 1972 and in New York in 1973. Since 1973, he started producing his first Rooms with geometric neon shapes in indoor and outdoor spaces. The following year, he designed neon installations that interfered with the architectural form and featured at the same time minimalist elements, such as complete or incomplete geometric shapes, as exemplified by the installations Ten Outdoor Neons, 1974 for the Port Worth Art Museum and the Incomplete Neon Square, 1977, for Documenta 6. Since then he produced a number of artworks for public spaces, institutions and organizations in the US, Europe and Japan. In 1977, his first solo exhibition in Greece was held at the Jean Bernier-Eliades Gallery in Athens. In the early 1980s, he was awarded a scholarship from the D.A.A.D and stayed in Berlin for 6 months, where he devoted himself to the production of drawings, collages and books, utilizing papers, cuts, geometric shapes and colored pencils on parchment. In 1982, he exhibited his first Panels, works with hidden, atmospheric illumination via neon tubes, mounted on metallized or painted flat surfaces, used as points that attract the human gaze. Towards the end of the 1980s, his visits to Greece awoke his religious and spiritual pursuits, which were manifested in maquettes produced in the 1990s such as the Chapels and the Meditation Rooms, as well as in the installation The Chapel of the Saints, 1993, in the fortress of St. George in Rhodes. In 2005, he was elected Fellow of the US National Academy of Sciences and, in 2007, he received the Henry Ward Ranger Fund Award for his participation in the 182nd Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American Art at the National Academy Museum in New York with his work Son of Alphaeus. In 2011, he set up an in-situ installation at the old oil mill in Elefsina during the Aeschylia Festival. His works can be found in public spaces in various cities in the USA, Europe and Asia, such as at the Le Corbusier's Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, the Athens Metro (Ampelokipi Station) and the Tel Aviv power plant. He participated in solo and group exhibitions around the world and in international events such as at the Europalia (1982), the São Paulo Biennale (1987), the Venice Biennale (1997), Documenta 6 (1977) in Kassel and Documenta 14 (2017) in Kassel and in Athens. Works by Stephen Antonakos belong to collections of museums and art institutions such as the Brooklyn Museum of Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, MoMA, Whitney Museum of American Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art and the New York Public Library in New York, the Musée d'Art et d'Histoire in Geneva, the Macedonian and the State Museum of Contemporary Art in Thessaloniki as well as the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Athens. Retrospective exhibitions of his work have been held by the State Museum of Modern Art (2000) in Thessaloniki, the Graduate Center Art Gallery (2005) in New York and the Benaki Museum (2007) in Athens. He died in New York in August 2013.