TAKIS: the veneration of a local hero

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Blending materials from the scrapheap into sculptures, Takis was clearly an artist of his time. Takis’ interest in the kinetic, in dynamism and metaphysics, in chance, in participation and in swapping the museum for the street brings back the fifties, the sixties and even seventies. Unlike the art of his friends and fellow artists like Jean Tinguely, Yves Klein and Nam June Paik whose work still strikes a chord today, Takis’ work is passé.

The Greek Takis (1925) moved mid fifties to Paris and turns ninety this year. He had a thrilling, cosmopolitan life and moved in interesting circles. Takis is probably best known for the Signal sculptures (‘Les Signaux’) that he produced throughout his career. Devices seen on the Calais train station and Giacometti’s elongated human figures inspired him. Constructed out of recycled metal some signals flash their lights, in others the mobile parts are moved by the wind or by electricity. Some signals run up to four metres high. They all try to capture the cosmic energy. Takis received many public commissions in France. In Paris alone his signal sculptures can be found at La Défense, at Unesco and on one of the roofs of Centre Pompidou.

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Magnetism plays an important part in quite a few works. In the most interesting one, Takis placed a man in levitation in the air. The man in question, the South-African poet Sinclair Beiles, was held in place by magnetic force. The performance echoes the positive spirit of the sixties, as does the ‘Manifeste magnétique’. ‘L’impossible, un homme dans l’espace’ was held at November 29 1960 in Iris Clert gallery. Two years before Yves Klein exhibited his void here. A few months after Takis’ performance, Yuri Gagarin would be the first man in space.

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The musical sculptures breathe the spirit of John Cage and his interest in chance and accidentality. Takis integrated an electromagnet and an amplifier in about fifteen large white panels (‘Panneaux musicaux’, 1970-2002). When the pendulum is attracted by the electromagnetic waves it touches the guitar or violin string and a tone is activated. It results into a haphazard composition. Takis regarded these sculptures as a radar captivating the music in space.

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In the participatory works ‘Antigravités’ (1971) and ‘Festins Magnétiques’ (1971) you’re invited to throw a handful of nails or iron flakes respectively at a magnetic surface. By doing so you can create your own little sculptures. In a playful fashion Takis rejects the artists’ monopoly on creation, as did Joseph Beuys and many artists of his generation. Unfortunately, the day after the opening you’re not allowed to touch these works unless a mediator is around.

The TAKIS exhibition is out of place in this palace for contemporary art. It’s the sort of exhibition you’d expect in Centre Pompidou, a museum devoted to twentieth century and contemporary art. It is not by chance that the curator of the exhibition is former Beaubourg director Alfred Paquement. Palais de Tokyo has set itself the task of presenting ‘forgotten’ artists who connect art with science. In 2013 they presented the Argentinean artist Julio le Parc (1928). However, as a result of this exhibition policy the profile of Palais de Tokyo approaches that of Centre Pompidou.

I would understand their choice to show an artist from the past if that artist clearly has had a large influence on younger generations of artists. The TAKIS exhibition fails to prove that. They could have done so by for example including work from younger artists who focus on technology as well. Now I have merely the impression that a local hero is veneered. The exhibition opens with a plotted handwritten statement of Marcel Duchamp about Takis. The godfather of French art gives his blessing. Paris has this tendency to rediscover their artists and to underline the importance of the city in the process. This is completely unnecessary; Paris can easily do without these politics.

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Takis’ made a few erotic sculptures in which he incorporated (electro)magnets

Even though Takis exhibited in New York and London, took part in Documenta VI (1977), represented Greece at the Venice Biennial (1995) and did a residency at MIT (1968-1969) he is mainly known and appreciated here in France. The Centre National d’Art Contemporain in Paris held a retrospective in 1972, Jeu de Paume in 1993. Although Takis definitely has had interesting ideas, the exhibition doesn’t manage to convince of his importance. It does highlight an artist that once was, which is the deathblow for an exhibition.

> > > TAKIS. Champs magnétiques, February 18 – May 17, 2015, Palais de Tokyo, Paris.

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