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Iannis Xenakis: Sonic Odysseys

Curators: Mâkhi Xenakis, Thierry Maniguet, Katerina Gregos

Exhibition design: Flux Office 

EMΣT | National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens

29.06.23 — 07.01.24

EMΣΤ is pleased to present the first major comprehensive exhibition in Greece of Iannis Xenakis (1922-2001), the avant-garde composer, music theorist, architect, engineer, mathematician, and one of the most progressive creative thinkers and cultural practitioners of the second half of the 20th century. In the 1950s, Xenakis broke the boundaries of contemporary music and devised a genre of music that is entirely unique. Instantly recognisable despite being in a state of constant reinvention and revolution, his radical music is, in essence, a reference to antiquity, an ode to nature and the elements, a tribute to modernism at its most extreme, and is visionary in its use of technology. Though widely acclaimed internationally, his work has yet to be presented in such an extensive way to date in Greece, and this exhibition represents the most extensive presentation of the work of this avant-garde composer, architect and mathematician, both in Greece and internationally.

The initiative for the Xenakis exhibition is in line with one of the museum’s missions, which is, among other things, to highlight the work of prominent or even lesser known but significant cultural practitioners of the Greek diaspora.

Xenakis pioneered the use of mathematical models in music such as the application of game theory, he was – and still remains – a seminal influence on the development of electronic and industrial music, and one of the innovators of multi-media art. He conjoined music with architecture, creating music for pre-existing spaces but also designing spaces for specific music compositions and performances, reconfiguring the classical spatial arrangement of the orchestra. He was also one of the first to deploy computers for musical composition. The exhibition highlights the multi-faceted, multidisciplinary practice of this singular figure – a true polymath – and illuminates the breadth of his prolific oeuvre demonstrating just how far ahead of his time he was, so unprecedented was his vision.

In 1947, during the Civil War and after receiving his degree in engineering from the Athens Polytechnic, Xenakis fled to Paris as a wanted-man for his resistance activities, only to return 27 years later after the fall of the military dictatorship in 1974, and receiving an official pardon after nearly 3 decades of self-imposed exile. Until his death in 2001 he composed over 150 works – from vocal, choral and orchestral, to chamber and solo music for piano, strings and percussion – as well as electronic music written on the UPIC, a computerised musical composition tool he devised that could translate graphical images into musical results. Xenakis also left behind a small but seminal architectural oeuvre, produced while working with Le Corbusier at the latter’s studio in Paris in the 1950s. Most emblematic of these is the Philips Pavilion which Le Corbusier charged him with, for the Brussels World’s Fair Expo 1958, with music by Edgar Varèse (his Poème Electronique), while at the entrance to the Pavilion Xenakis’ own composition Concret PH, could be heard. The exhibition includes the original model of the architectural structure.

Co-produced by ΕΜΣΤ and the Philharmonie de Paris, the exhibition focuses on the most important and ground-breaking work of Xenakis’s visual, literary, architectural, and musical output, while illuminating his personal history by contextualising the composer in his times, and the political and cultural movements that defined him as an artist. Based on the Xenakis Family archives, the exhibition parcours is designed around six chapters, centred on a number of major works, both musical and architectural. Presenting both personal and artistic material, a thematic and chronological narrative thread highlights his rich, expansive artistic vision, invites the visitor to gain insight into his tumultuous personal history, reveals the multitude of his ecumenical interests through the recreation of his library, and takes us on a journey of Xenakis’s unique universe as we discover his sweeping sound masses and ultra-modern multi-dimensional spatial and musical universes.

The exhibition is organised around six chapters, focusing on some of Xenakis’ most seminal works, both musical and architectural. A narrative thread, both thematic and chronological, invites the visitor to absorb Xenakis’ unique world through both sight and sound. The exhibition includes 20 musical and architectural opuses, 220 original and archival documents: photos, models, scores and personal items as well as a number of audio-visual works.

The Xenakis Family Archives promotes events, publications and information related to the thought and work of Iannis Xenakis.

For further information click here.

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Installation Views

Στα εγκαίνια της έκθεσης του Ιάννη Ξενάκη στο ΕΜΣΤ

Η μεγαλύτερη έκθεση για τον Ξενάκη διεθνώς ξεκίνησε με ένα μεγάλο πάρτι στο ΕΜΣΤ.

Editors: Theophilos Tramboulis, Katerina Gregos

Writers: Pavlos Antoniadis, Pierre Carré, Dimitris Exarchos, Steven Feld, Benoît Gibson, Katerina Gregos, James Harley, Elisavet Kiourtsoglou, Stella Kourmpana, François-Bernard Mâche, Thierry Maniguet, STUDIO LABOUR, Stamatis Schizakis, Makis Solomos, Katerina Tsiourka, Haris Xanthoudakis, Mâkhi Xenakis


Publications: ΕΜΣΤ 

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