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Yaacov Agam

Yaacov Agam

Monument to the victims of the terrorist attack on the AMIA, by Yaacov Agram, located in the rebuilt AMIA building, Pasteur 663, in the city of Buenos Aires.

Yaacov Agam (Rishon LeZion, Israel, May 11, 1928) is a kinetic and plastic artist and sculptor. He began his art studies with maestro Mordechai Ardon at the Art School of Bezalel, then he moved to Zurich and later studied at the Abstract Art Academy of Paris. In 1950 he finished his first kinetic experiment, three years later he staged his first exhibition and in 1955 he was one of the participants of the first international art show at the Denise René Gallery in Paris.

His work was exhibited in the 1959 Paris Biennial. The same year he had an outstanding exhibition in Amsterdam entitled Motion in Art. In 1963 he won the first prize at the Sao Paulo Biennial in Brazil.

His work is remarkable for the interactivity between artist and spectator, since Agam’s works are usually provided with a screen and tiny perforations through which the work can be observed in different ways depending on the viewer’s point of view. Most of his sculptures are of large dimension and made with stainless steel.

He generated such excitement in the art world that many public entities and welfare associations requested his work for their facilities, among them the Congress Center in Jerusalem and the sculpture located at the Juilliard School of Music in New York.

Pioneer of kinetic art, he is a multifaceted artist who has researched new materials in order to create works that change with the point of view of the spectator, who is invited to make an active exploration. His work is endowed with a strong spiritual and cultural component linked to the Jewish religion.

The son of a Jewish orthodox rabbi, he was born in a city in Palestine, then under British domain. He received a strong religious education which influenced his view of art as a spiritual form of expression. As a child he witnessed the attack against a bus perpetrated by an Arab terrorist group. At the age of 18 he was arrested as suspect of belonging to Israel’s army of resistance. He served an eighteen-month sentence between 1945 and 1946.

His artistic career started in his teens, in 1940, when he discovered the paintings of Van Gogh. He later discovered the great maestros (Rembrandt) and 19th-century artists such as Soutine, Daumier and Doré. By the end of World War II, in 1946, he entered the Arts and Design Academy at Bezabel, Jerusalem. This school was at the time under the influence of Bauhaus, and Agam was thus exposed to the European abstract movements, especially constructivism.

To complete his studies he traveled to Zurich, where he met J. Itten, S. Giedion and M. Bill. Advised by Giedion, he decided to go to Chicago, but a stopover in Paris retained him in this city, which became his definite residence. He soon joined a group of artists which, by the early 1950s, were known as representatives of the Nouvelle Tendence. The aesthetics of this group was related to perceptual art, also known as Op-Art (Optic Art), based on the illusions and effects provoked by objects and colors in the human eye. This movement has a strong scientific foundation, perhaps the most studied, or at least emphasized, by the critics. But Agam’s works and comments target the spiritual meaning of this type of art, and its universal capacity to cause spontaneous, non-mediated reactions in the audience. From this aesthetic point of departure, Agam developed a work which gradually approached the tendency later known as kinetic art.

In 1953 he presented his first individual exhibition, and in 1955 he participated in the first international encounter of kinetic art, which took place at the Denise René Gallery in Paris. From this moment on he was permanently associated to this movement, and the exhibitions and recognitions began to flow. He participated in the 1959 Paris Biennial and the Motion in Art show in Amsterdam. In 1963 he won the first prize at the Sao Paulo Biennial, where his innovative artistry motivated a significant event: the jury had to create a new category within the Biennial, the prize for artistic research, since they were unsure whether they were rewarding him for sculpture or painting.

The work of this artist unavoidably involves the fourth dimension, time, manifested through motion. In his first works, the Polyphonic paintings of 1953, the spectator views different pictures as he moves around. These are pictures based on elementary geometric figures which alter their physiognomy as the spectator assumes a frontal or lateral position. To achieve this, Agam paints on aluminum plates folded in zigzag in such a way that the spectator’s lateral displacement promotes the viewing of one side of the folding while hiding the other side, as can be observed in Double metamorphosis III (1968-1969, National Museum of Modern Art, Georges Pompidou Center, Paris).

Since then he has been faithful to abstract forms and motion as the essence of his work. After these early paintings which required the spectator to move around, he started experimenting with mobile works, kinetic sculptures and transformable paintings actioned by electric devices or the human hand. Fascinated by new materials, he experimented with graphic techniques. His work also includes the use of new technologies: video-art, holography, electronic art and cybernetics. Light, as well as electromagnetic waves, are an important part of his work.

He is also concerned with the most engaging formulations of conceptual art, and thus has been acknowledged as one of the leading exponents of kinetic art. By the late 1950s, developing the intuitions of Dadaism, futurism and constructivism, kinetic art experiments with a wide spectrum of possibilities of motion in the artwork. This interest in motion, though formally distant, links Agam’s work with Calder’s mobile, constantly changing structures, being nevertheless the product of rigorous calculation. The influence of op-art, a movement showing undeniable parallelisms with kinetic art, is also patent, not only in the dialectic relationship with technology, but also in the intent to incorporate the spectator to the artwork.

Agam has been able to convey through kinetic sculptures, tele-art, digital art, ecological art, musical compositions, etc., the spirituality of Jewish culture, overcoming the limitations of second and third dimensionality by introducing the time factor to the artwork. An elderly André Breton, though drawn away in his crystal palace, was deeply impressed by Agam’s transformable paintings.

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