Captivating the world

Yaacov Agam has captivated the art world since 1953 with his first one-man show in Paris. Agam’s profound influence and revolutionary contribution to kinetic art remains much like his work – unrestrained by movement, time or possibility.

Yaacov Agam at Dan Hotel, Tel Aviv, 2009 photo by Tomer Appelbaum

Yaacov Agam at Dan Hotel, Tel Aviv, 2009 photo by Tomer Appelbaum

According to Agam, his intention is “to create a work of art which would transcend the visible, which cannot be perceived except in stages, with the understanding that it is a partial revelation and not the perpetuation of the existing.” He says his aim is “to show what can be seen within the limits of possibility which exists in the midst of coming into being.”

The kinetic aspect to his artwork – which the artist calls the “fourth dimension” – engages movement and the element of time. His development of ever-changing art invites viewer participation that progresses through a re-creation and an evolution of his work, replacing the traditional static observation of two- and three-dimensional works of art.

By using a lenticular lens in his groundbreaking “Agamograph” works, he invites observers to experience a varying image as they change the angle with which they view the work. This groundbreaking technique remains a unique contribution to the growth of graphic art as well as the revelation of the fourth dimension in Agam’s art.

Agam’s works of art include paintings and drawings, sculpture, architecture, computer art, ceramics, stained glass, lithography and a sizable collection of graphic art.

Agam embraces a fusion of media in his art. He has a special interest in the varying combinations of visual art, music, natural science and computer science. In this sense, Agam’s passion in kinetic art takes on a larger form. As he integrates technological advances in his art, he demonstrates his own ability to be an ever-changing and growing artist.

 “Agam projects his work into the future whereas formerly art depicted only the ‘retrospectivity’ of the past.” – Jean-Claude Meyer

The Rabbi’s son

The son of a devout Rabbi, Yaacov Agam was born Yaacov Gipstein in 1928 in Rishon LeZion. Agam’s strong Judaic upbringing, rooted in Kabbalism, has served as a primary inspiration to his work.

“The driving force and the source from which I draw my inspiration stem from my desire to give plastic and artistic expression to the ancient Hebrew concept of reality, which differs in its essence from that of all other civilizations, and which, to my mind, has never found its true artistic expression.” — Yaacov Agam

Agam’s initial training in art was at the Bezalel School in Jerusalem. In 1949, he moved to Zurich, staying for two years before he moved to Paris.

The art of  endless possibility

This desire for expression led a young Agam to study in 1945 Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Art, and then in 1950 under Johannes Itten in Zurich. Not long after, Agam established himself at the Craven Gallery in Paris. His first solo exhibition – Paintings in Movement – was there in 1953.

At this exhibition, Agam premiered his “polyphonic,” or polymorph paintings: works composed of triangular pillars painted so the artwork revealed to the viewer different images at different angles. Unlike an optic painting, Agam’s purpose in creating these works was not simply to produce two separate images but instead create endless possibilities of viewpoints and resulting images.

Mysticism and multiple dimensions

Agam’s nonrepresentational style is an integration of formalist art with that of the Kabbalah (the study of Hebrew mysticism). He’s created a body of work that’s optic in nature, changing with movement. The viewer may participate by manually transforming the work or by observing changes while passing by it.

Agam works in a variety of media, including painting in two- and three-dimensions, drawing, sculpture, ceramics, stained glass, serigraphy, lithography, etching, textiles and combinations of media. His creation of the “Agamograph” (a multiple series of images viewed through a lenticular lens that changes at every angle viewed), has allowed his unique concept to be appreciated by collectors worldwide.

Through all of these mediums, Agam carries style that is unique in his dedication to kinetic works.

Tactile art - Yaacov Agam

(Two examples of how Agam embraces technology in his always changing approach to tactile art. The work on the left is from early in his career, the work on the right uses digital technology.)

Looking back to the future

Since Agam’s work incorporates what he calls the fourth dimension – movement and time – it’s not representational of a moment gone by, but instead that which is yet-to-be for those who will experience and explore it.

However, the artist’s past work has been the centerpiece of several retrospective exhibitions where collections of his artwork have been assembled and displayed in museums worldwide.

His first retrospective exhibition was in Paris at the Musée National d’Art Moderne in 1972. The exhibition “Selected Suites” was at the Jewish Museum, New York (1975), and in 1980, New York’s Guggenheim Museum hosted “Agam: Beyond the Visible.”

Agam’s kinetic art is in permanent collections of museums all over the world, including “Double Metamorphosis II″ in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, “Transparent Rhythms II” in the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and various works at the Guggenheim in New York, the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum in Missouri, the Pompidou Center in Paris and many others.

Agam has received numerous awards and honors for his work including: the Prize for Artistic Research, Sao Paulo, Bienal, Brazil (1963); guest lecturer, Harvard University (1968), Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres (1974); Honorary Doctorate of Philosophy, Tel Aviv University (1975); and the Medal of the Council of Europe (1977). In 1996, he was awarded the Jan Amos Comenius Medal by UNESCO for the success of the Agam Method, a visual language education program for children the artist created in collaboration with the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.

Homepage photo credits in the order they appear: Tomer Appelbaum, Wikicommons, (Video) Park West Gallery, Back to Nothing via Flickr, Tomer Appelbaum.