A world-renowned kinetic artist, Yaacov Agam pioneered a new form of art that stresses change and movement. He studied under the Bauhaus’ color-theoretician, Johannes Itten, and then rejected traditional static concepts of painting and sculpture. He has enjoyed great public success since his first one-person show in Paris in 1953, and has become one of the most influential artists of modern times.
Agam was born in 1928 as Yaacov Gipstein in Rishon LeZion (then Mandate Palestine). The son of a Rabbi and Kabbalist, 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. He remains there to this day with his wife and three children.
His 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 physically passing by, viewing the image change at various angles. His works are collected worldwide and he has enjoyed major museum shows.
Agam works in a variety of media, including painting in two and three-dimensions, drawing, sculpture, ceramics, stained glass, serigraphy, lithography, etching, 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 across the world.
In 1972, he held a retrospective exhibition in Paris at the Musée National d’Art Moderne. In 1980, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York held the retrospective exhibition “Beyond the Visible” and his “Selected Suites” were at the Jewish Museum, New York (1975). He has paintings in museums all over the world, including “Double Metamorphosis 11″ in the Museum of Modern Art in New York and “Transparent Rhythms 11 “in the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
His commissions include “Homage a Mondrian” Le Mondrian Hotel, Los Angeles (1985); “Reflection and Depth”, Port Authority of New York; and Synagogue Design and Civic Center, Ben-Gurion University (1979). He spends much of his time on cruise ships, as well, and in 1987, he created a “floating museum,” including all the artworks for public areas and cabins, for the Carnival Cruise Line’s luxury cruise ship “Celebration.”
Agam is also renowned for his public sculpture. In 2009, he created a monumental sculpture for the World Games in Kaohsiung, Taiwan called “Peaceful Communication with the World” – nine optical pillars that contain more than 180 shades. His giant Hanukkah Menorah at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 59th Street in New York City is also incredibly popular. Sponsored by Lubavitch Youth Organization, it is 32 feet high and more than 4,000 pounds – recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest menorah. It burns with real oil every Hanukkah. His public art appears on the busy streets across the world, most popular in New York, Chicago, Paris, and Strasbourg.
For his work he has received numerous awards: 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 and in 1999 he created the winner’s trophy for the Eurovision Song Contest in Jerusalem.
Agam also writes extensively about his work and has had several books published on his imagery, concepts, and exhibitions including, “Agam,” written by Frank Popper and published by Harry Abrams.