Takis Vassilakis

Takis Vassilakis



Panayiotis Vassilakis, known as Takis, was born in Athens in 1925 to parents who were refugees from Izmir. The tragic events, the hardships and the effects of the Axis Occupation of Greece and of the subsequent Greek Civil War stigmatized his adolescence. Without any formal artistic training, he began his career in the mid-1940s. In his first steps, he drew inspiration from Greek archaic and Cycladic art, ancient tragedy, as well as from the work of Alberto Giacometti and Pablo Picasso, which is evident in his early creations, the anthropomorphic silhouettes made of wire, plaster and fabric. In 1952, he worked in the same studio as Minos Argyrakis and the sculptor Panos Raymondos in Anakasa. Two years later, he moved to Paris where, while working at blacksmith shops, he was given the opportunity to discover his personal passion about cosmological issues and his inherent need for continuous experimentation through the combination of traditional techniques with science and technology. In 1955, he held his first solo exhibition entitled Figures in Plaster at the Hanover Gallery in London. Upon his return to France, the technological décor of the train station drew his attention, and became the reason for his decisive shift in the selection of his expressive means. As a result, he produced the series Signals that consisted of thin metal rods bearing diverse objects on their edges, such as lamps, radio antennas or eyes and referred to supernatural technological beings. Takis’ Signals subsequently acquired various forms and were reinforced with other technological tools and objets trouvés. In 1957, he held a series of happenings combining them with fireworks in the streets of Paris. In 1958, he introduced magnetism as an essential part of his sculptural work and created his first Telemagnetic sculptures made of needles and threads pulsed with magnetic force. Since then, in the series of artworks that followed he started defying the power of gravity and the traditional sculptural process, a practice that made him a pioneer. A highlight of this period was the performance The Impossible: Man in Space (L’impossible: Un homme dans l’espace, 1960) at the Iris Clert gallery in Paris, featuring the poet Sinclair Beiles traveling into space while reciting the poem Magnetic Manifesto. In 1960, he socialized with Beat Generation authors in Paris and in 1961; he met Marcel Duchamp in New York as well as other personalities who wrote about his work. In the same year, his autobiography entitled Estafilades was published from Juliard publications. In his succeeding sculptures, he utilized various types of energy in relation to natural phenomena, and introduced artworks series such as the Telelumieres (1961), Magnetic Walls (Murs Magnétiques, 1961) and the Musical sculptures (1964). From 1964 to 1968, he lived in London, up until he was awarded a scholarship from MIT's Center for Advanced Visual Studies, he moved to Massachusetts as a visiting researcher for the academic year 1969, to conduct research on his first Hydromagnetic sculptures. During his stay in the US, he became a founding member of the Art Workers’ Coalition and removed one of his Telesculptures from MoMA’s exhibition The Machine as Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age (1969) as a sign of protest over the fact that the museum exhibited it without his consent. In the 1970s, he created interactive installations, acoustic environments and choreographic events, bronze Erotic sculptures and environmental compositions. In the 1980s, he received the 1st prize at the Paris Biennale (1985) and the Grand National Sculpture Award of France (1988). In 1984, the monograph entitled Takis – Monographies was published by Galilée publications, including texts by Nicolas and Helena Calas, Pierre Restany and William Burroughs. During that period, he was involved in in-situ interventions in public spaces, such as the Luminous Forest (1987) consisting of signals at the Esplanade – Bassin de la Défense in Paris, the transformation of the tower in Ville de Beauvais into a Musical and Illuminated sculpture (1992) and the decoration of the Reyniere station (1992) in Toulouse. In 1986, he founded the Research Center for the Art and the Sciences in Gerovouno, Attica, in order to support artistic and scientific activities and professions. In 1995, he received the “Taxiarchis” (Commander) grade of the Order of the Phoenix and, at the end of the decade, he produced works such as the Tribute to Apollo (Hommage à Apollon, 2000) in Delphi by utilising photovoltaic energy. Until his death in 2019, Takis continued to be active as an inventor-creator who explored the existence of energy in matter, and the function of art in social spaces, by inventing his own machines. In addition to his sculptural activity, he has designed stages and costumes and written musical compositions for theatrical and film productions. Among them the play Elkesis (1973) held at Holland’s National Festival, Costa-Gavras’ film Section Spéciale (1975) and the ancient drama Electra by Sophocles (1983) held at the Ancient Theater of Epidaurus and directed by Michael Cacoyannis. He has participated in numerous group exhibitions, most notably Lumière et Mouvement (1967) at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Eight Artists, Eight Attitudes, Eight Greeks (1975) at the ICA in London, Le siècle de Kafka (1984) at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, Force Fields, phases of the kinetic (2000) at the MACBA in Barcelona and the Hayward Gallery in London. He has participated in exhibitions such as the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles (1956, 1957), the Salon de la jeune sculpture (1957-1960) and the Salon de Mai (1960, 1966, 1971) in Paris, the Documenta in Kassel (1977, 2017), and the Venice Biennale (1995). His works can be found in public spaces and in major collections such as at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the MOMA and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the de Menil Collection in Houston, Tate Modern in London and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice. Retrospective exhibitions of his work have been organized by the Centre National d'Art Contemporain (1972) in Paris, the Jeu de Paume arts center (1993) in Paris, whose exhibition toured at the FAE Museum of Contemporary Art in Lausanne, at the Fundacion La Caixa in Madrid while in 1995, it was finally brought to the premises of the Athens School of Fine Arts thus inaugurating the exhibition spaces of the latter, the Palais de Tokyo (2015) in Paris, most recently the Tate Modern (2019) in London in collaboration with the MACBA in Barcelona and the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens. He passed away on August 9, 2019 in Gerovouno Attica.