Exhibition review published in Art Papers (Atlanta), vol. 39 no. 3, May-June 2015, p. 61.
Grab on for these are groundbreaking news, literally! In the earliest days of the Cold War’s Space Race, Takis was the first to send a man into “space” five months before the USSR sent Yuri Gagarin into orbit. Indeed, on November 29, 1960, using no spacecraft, just the force between magnets, the Greek artist managed to make beat poet Sinclair Beiles overcome gravity and levitate just enough time for the latter to recite the Magnetic Manifesto, starting with “I am the sculpture…” Admittedly, Takis’ performance, L’impossible, un homme dans l’espace (The Impossible, A Man in Space), didn’t happen in outer space per se, but in Paris behind the doors of Galerie Iris Clert, the same gallery that presented two years earlier Yves Klein’s show Le Vide (The Void) , an entirely emptied exhibition space. That said, contrary to Klein’s, Takis’ invitation wasn’t an ode to nothingness but to the invisible energy of magnetic force.
In 1962, Marcel Duchamp, who had just met Takis in New York, addressed him in a letter a unique sentence, which consisted of this witty sobriquet: “par conséquent Takis, gai laboureur des champs magnétiques et indicateur des chemins de fer doux” (“consequently Takis, cheerful plowman of magnetic fields and indicator of soft iron railways”). This (double) aphorism, which brilliantly sums up Takis’ aesthetics, provided the title for his current exhibition at Paris’ Palais de Tokyo, Champs magnétiques (Magnetic Fields), which is his largest since his 1993 retrospective at the same city’s Jeu de Paume. At the crossroads between science, kinetic art and Nouveau Réalisme, as founded by Klein and art critic Pierre Restany in 1960, Takis has created since the mid-1950s an astonishing body of sculptural works celebrating “the 4th dimension of magnetic force,” as he stated during the press preview of his show (same source for all the subsequent quotes) Alfred Pacquement, the exhibition’s curator and former director of Paris’ Centre Georges Pompidou, chose not to display Takis’ works in a chronological order, but rather to embark the visitors on a magnetic journey through different luminous and musical atmospheres, ranging a wide selection of his past and recent pieces from colorful abstraction to dark eroticism.
Each reminiscent of traffic lights and consisting of a big antenna made out of industrial waste—specifically, metal, blinking bulbs and Archimedes’ screws—four imposing Signaux lumineux, vis d’Archimède (1980-2000) point at the high ceiling of the Palais de Tokyo’s hall and signal the threshold of Takis’ show, warning of his ambition “to capture the cosmic energy,” the artist also said. Upon entry, visitors are immediately invited to grab compasses and use them as they walk along the large wall piece Mur magnétique – 4e dimension (2014), which is an arabesque of metal rods applied to a long, red-painted iron sheet, imbedded with concealed magnets. Inevitably, the invisible forces at play cause the compasses’ magnetized needles to loose sight of the North, and to spin out of control. Other participative pieces are presented further in the exhibition, including Antigravités and Festins magnétiques (both 1971), which invite viewers to throw and to sculpt handfuls of nails and iron filings, respectively, onto magnetized sheets of metal to form abstract configurations.
A number of similar experiments punctuate the journey through Takis’ show, including Mur magnétique n° 9 (Rouge) (1961-1972), in which four black metallic cones and a white kite levitate above the red surface of a large acrylic painting on canvas, all (again) held in place by hidden magnets. Meanwhile, Takis’ Panneaux musicaux (1970-2002) introduces the audience to what he calls “the music of the beyond”. The installation, which resembles a gigantic vertical piano keyboard, consists of 12 large white wooden panels hanging on a black semi-circular wall, a violin or guitar string stretched from the top to the bottom of each one, and a heavy metal needle suspended by an invisible thread next to each string. An electromagnet concealed behind each panel causes the needles to move back and forth and consistently strike the strings. The resulting sound is amplified all over the exhibition space, producing a bewitching, grinding and persistent metallic concert.
Finally, far from Takis’ abstract works, a selection of his highly erotic bronzes concludes the exhibition. These include his acephalic Sebastian (1974) —a depiction of the Christian martyr, sitting on a sphere with an erection. Instead of the canonical arrows piercing his body, two sharp black cones threateningly float towards his torso, almost touching it. According to Takis, “magnetic force and love are the same thing: attraction!” The artist’s continuing fascination with the invisible forces of cosmic energy persists, not as a mere casual interest but as an actual obsession, and in Champs magnétiques, these forces are certainly capable of arousal.