Born Panagiotis Vassilakis in Athens in 1925, Takis is world-renowned for his explorations of the gap between art and science. Since the mid-1950s, he has continually pushed into new aesthetic territories, creating three-dimensional works of art that incorporate invisible energies as a fourth element. Takis, who describes himself as an “instinctive scientist,” employs powerful forces to generate the compositions, movements, and musical sounds of his static and kinetic works. Electromagnetism has been his abiding fascination and the subject of continual study, including as a visiting researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the late 1960s. With 25 works, the largest single group outside of Europe, the Menil Collection has had a long relationship with the artist. Takis: The Forth Dimension will be the first-ever museum survey of the artist’s career in the United States. It is being organized by Toby Kamps, Menil Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art.
Takis’s earliest works are small sculptures inspired by the simplified, geometric forms of ancient Cycladic sculptures; egglike bronze forms referencing interior volumes and centrifugal forces; and the ongoing Signals series, antenna like sculptures inspired by radio and radar that move in the wind. Later works from the 1960s, dubbed tele-peintures and tele-sculptures by French critic Alain Jouffroy (from the Greek word tele, meaning “at a distance”) are paintings and sculptures incorporating magnetism in their designs. For example, the Menil Collection’s Magnetic Painting No. 7, 1962, uses strong magnets behind a yellow monochrome canvas to make metal objects restrained by wires hover above its surface. AndBallet Magnetique I, 1961, uses an electromagnet to make a metal sphere suspended from a wire orbit above it. Two more recent works donated to the museum by the artist in memory of the de Menil family,Magnetic Wall - M.W. 038, 1999, and Musical - M. 013, 2000, use magnets to shape a drawing made of coiled steel wire and to create simple “naked music,” respectively.
Takis is a kindred spirit to a number of artists in the Menil Collection. He is a contemporary of kinetic sculptor Jean Tinguely, who made motion, time, and a performative element part of the work of art, and of nouveau realist painter and performance artist Yves Klein, who used unusual, elemental materials including fire and human paintbrushes to discover more profound dimensions. Like these artists, Takis has a radical streak. From the beginning, whether in street-art fireworks, attempts to use magnetism to suspend a man in space in advance of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s historic flight, or cofounding the Art Workers Coalition, an organization dedicated to giving living artists a voice in museums, he has regarded the energies of political and social spheres as part of his repertoire. Currently, he runs the Research Center for the Arts and Sciences in Athens and practices Solar Yoga, a form focusing on harnessing the sun’s energy.