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.
Agam 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.
Yaacov Agam was born in 1928 as Yaacov Gipstein in Rishon LeZion, Israel, then Mandate Palestine. Agam’s initial training in art was at the Bezalel School in Jerusalem. In 1949 he moved to Zurich, remaining there for two years before moving to Paris where he resides to this day.
In 2017, the Yaacov Agam Museum of Art—devoted solely to his works—officially opened in Agam’s hometown of Rishon LeZion.
A master in integrated design, color theory, and draftsmanship, Agam stands at the forefront of two significant movements in contemporary art history: Kinetic and Op Art. He is accompanied in renown and practice by Alexander Calder, Victor Vasarely, Bridget Riley, and Josef Albers.
Agam’s multi-faceted works hinge on movement and dynamically change in relation to a viewer’s position. He calls each viewer to action, challenging the notion that art should only be enjoyed from limited perspectives. By relying on viewer perception to complete the composition, each work is never wholly complete or wholly visible. In this way, Agam transcends representation by denying it.
Characterized by sculpted lines, geometric patterns, and beveled edges, Agam’s artistic aesthetic is entirely non-figurative. He creates non-representational artwork in order to align and adhere to the tenets of the “Kabbalah,” the ancient Hebrew study of mysticism. Agam grew up in an Orthodox household and was initially discouraged in his artistic pursuits by his father, a rabbi. Instead of wrestling with his Orthodox beliefs, which prohibit graven images, the artist opted to create non-representational compositions to inspire metaphysical reflection.
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 and, in 1987, he created a “floating museum,” creating all the artworks for the public areas and cabins of Carnival Cruise Line’s luxury cruise ship “Celebration.”
Agam has installed larger-than-life public sculptures in New York, Chicago, Paris, Strasbourg, Tel Aviv, and many other locations around the world. 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.
He has received numerous awards, including: Prize for Artistic Research, Sao Paulo, Biennal, 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.
In 2017 Agam received the “Warrior for Truth” Award from The Algemeiner, one of the foremost Jewish newspapers in the world. The award was presented to Agam at the annual J100 Gala in New York, a celebration of the top 100 people in the world who are “positively influencing Jewish life.”