ANTONAKOS--Stephen, 86, died suddenly August 17th, interrupting a life in art active since the 1950s. Known for his abstract, spatial work with neon from 1960 to the present, Antonakos defined his work as "real things in real spaces" -- avoiding representation, illusion, symbolism. The activation of the space occupied by both the art and the viewer, and the crucial architectural placement of forms, were defining characteristics of decades of work that redefined neon as capable of great formal subtlety and, often, spiritual power. His complete and incomplete neon circles and squares and their spatial relationships to their sites connect his work with Minimalism, but Antonakos's distinctive lightness allows a certain openness in interpretation. Even with the large Public Works he said he hoped to reach the inner person. In addition to the neon work, there are Artist's Books, reliefs, collages, prints, and an enormous history of drawings on paper and vellum -- often folded, cut, layered, or crumpled. Recent series of cut or crumpled gold leaf sheets continued his investigation into questions of light. Since the 1960s he has exhibited in New York and across the US and in Europe in hundreds of shows. Among the outstanding exhibitions were "Ten Outdoor Neons, Fort Worth," 1974; Documenta 6, 1977; "Chapel of the Saints," 1993, Rhodes; Venice Biennale, 1997; Marzona Collection, Hamburger Bahnhof; 2001-2002; A Retrospective, 2007-8, Athens, org. by the J.F. Costopoulos Foundation; and "The Search," 2011, Elefsina. Shows in 2013 include paper work at The Drawing Room, East Hampton; the early "Pillows" at Lori Bookstein Fine Art, Chelsea; the 1965 "Hanging Neon" in "Dynamo" at the Grand Palais; and "4 Directions" at the Konrad Fischer Galerie, Berlin. Over 50 Public Works have been installed in such cities as Athens, Bari, Dijon, Frankfurt, Los Angeles, New York, Odessa, Tel Aviv, Tokyo, and Seattle. Antonakos's work is represented in numerous private and public collections, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the National Gallery in D.C., and the National Museums of Contemporary Art in Athens and Salonica. Major publications include Irving Sandler's 1997 monograph and the catalog for the Athens Retrospective, with essays by Martin Filler, Eleftherios Ikonomou, Katerina Koskina, Daniel Marzona, and Brian O'Doherty. In 2011 he received Lifetime Achievement Awards from the National Academy of Art and Museum, and from the Greek American Foundation. A modest man of great gentleness and sensitivity, he made bold, original investigations into the open experience of form, color, and light in space. Antonakos was born November 1, 1926 in the small Greek village of Agios Nikolaos, Laconia. He often mentioned remembering the sunrises there. He came to New York at the age of 4 with his parents Thomas and Evangelia (Gregory), his brothers Bill, Peter, and Tony, and his sister Kanella. He grew up in Bay Ridge and served in the Philippines in WWII. He is survived by his wife Naomi Spector, his children Stephen B Antonakos, a musician, and Evangelia Mary Spector Antonakos, a mathematician, and many loving relatives and friends. We will miss his energy and his warmth. Viewings at Frank E. Campbell, 1076 Madison Ave., Thursday August 29 from 5 to 9pm and Friday August 30 from 2 to 5pm. Funeral at St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church, 143 East 17th St., Saturday August 31 at 10am.
Published in New York Times on Aug. 25, 2013.