Despite the multi-decade career - he died just after this Tate Modern show opened - the “kinetic” artist Takis is bound into the 1960s, specifically the decade’s go-ahead technological positivity. His art, kindled by the possibilities of electromagnetism and machinery, shows an excitement and wonder similar to that of the IBM pavilion at the 1965 World’s Fair, or Vasarely’s strobing patterns.
That’s not to suggest this exhibition is any fun though. Takis was a sculptor who said he didn’t care what things look like; instead his works were inspired by “energy”. You can see this in the show’s opening room, where Magnetic Fields, from 1969, features magnetic pendulums swinging overhead, so that a range of metal ‘flowers’ sway prettily to reach them.
Well, it would be stunning if the artwork wasn’t too delicate to switch on.
Things are still working in a series of wall works elsewhere in the exhibition, where below-canvas magnets attract metallic pointers, stuck there in unlikely angles.
Elsewhere, there are bits of machines, reconfigured from World War Two surplus, a reminder of the political context in which Takis worked: he came of age in occupied Greece before finding international fame. Again and again, the springy radio antennae found on US Army jeeps, the kind that rumbled over Greece as liberators following the War, feature in the works. How decadent Robert Rauschenberg’s Bed, also made of found objects, on show in these same galleries two years ago, seems by comparison.
Takis saved his decadence, or what might be better termed dilettantism, for later years, taking up a position in “visual studies” at MIT. How come? Tate’s notes make hay of the artist’s claims to be a “scientist”, but there’s more of a sense of wonder at the process of magnetism rather than any great scientific explanation of this process.
Maybe I reacted grumpily (and ungraciously, considering Takis’ recent demise) because the exhibition has one of the most unpleasant soundtracks I’ve ever experienced in a gallery - all that magnetic clanking!
Takis is at Tate Modern. July 03 - October 27 2019