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 Yaacov (Gipstein) Agam  (1928 - )

About: Yaacov (Gipstein) Agam
 

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Lived/Active: New York / Israel/France      Known for: religious and environmental themed sculpture, kinetic and optical art

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BIOGRAPHY for Yaacov Agam
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Birth
1928 (Rishon le Zion, Israel)
 
Lived/Active
New York / Israel/France

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religious and environmental themed sculpture, kinetic and optical art

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Yaacov Agam was born Yaacov Gipstein in Rishon le Zion, in Israel on May 11, 1928.  His father was a rabbi, a Talmudic scholar and a Kabbalist.  The family was poor, and the young Agam received little regular schooling; he studied under a "melamed" in the local synagogue.  He soon realized he could draw.

"I used to come home with drawings, at first afraid of my father's reactions, since drawing was not permitted on religious principles. But on one occasion my father told me a story: that when he was a student at a yeshiva, he made a drawing on a handkerchief and forgot it on his desk. He came back to look for it because he thought the rabbi would punish him for drawing a figure. But later, when he had forgotten the whole matter and was visiting the rabbi's home, he found the drawing hanging upon the wall."

As a teenager, Agam entered the New Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts in Jerusalem, where he studied with its director, Mordecai Ardon.  There they discovered his "astonishing capacity for drawing. But that's a waste of time, mere craftsmanship, compared to the direct spiritual approach" that his early exposure to Talmudic and Kabbalistic study had taught him.

In 1949, he journeyed to Zurich to study.  He traveled throughout Europe, where he filled notebook upon notebook with drawings and sketches of Western art and architecture.  In viewing the art of the past, he became obsessed with the idea of inventing a new artistic mode of expression that would reflect the present. In 1951, he settled in a studio in Paris where he discovered the world of galleries and dealers, of bohemian cafes and intellectuals and artists.  Then he himself was discovered.  He received his first one-man show, the first recorded one-man show of kinetic art, in 1953.

One of the artistic phenomena of post World War II Europe, he is a leader in the world of experimental art.  Agam's works are found in virtually every major museum. His commissions adorn buildings, monuments and vistas from the headquarters of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France to the unique Agam Room in the Louvre in Paris, as well as Hadassah Hospital at Ein Karem in Jerusalem and the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York.  The French, German and Israeli governments have commissioned him.

Agam is one of the best-known artists Israel has produced.  His work can be divided into three categories: contrapuntal paintings that change color and form as the viewer moves; transformable objects that contain elements whose patterns can be altered by the viewer; and tactile constructions that vibrate, move or give off sound when touched.  Agam will use a palette of up to 180 colors for any given painting--so many hues that few photographs can reproduce the fine gradations in shade.

While many critics have declared Agam a major contemporary artist and esthetic theoretician, other critics have just as loudly denounced him as being a cold technician, a pale imitator of the Mondrian of the 1940s, a pretentious idealogue. Scientists are as well equipped to judge his work as are art critics.  They say, and at the same time assert that his "research" has led him only to rediscover visual tricks that have been known since the Renaissance.

The ability to enrage is often as vital a talent as the gift to engage and delight, however.  Only skeptics resist the magician and perhaps that is why Agam insists that his visual sleights of hand are for children of all ages. Standing before the shifting, glittering surface of a work by Agam, it is difficult not to experience the childlike surprise of discovery, and perhaps that is the Kabbalistic secret of his success.

Written and submitted August 2004 by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California.

Sources:
Diane Cole in The National Jewish Monthly, April 1977
Time Magazine
Hadassah Magazine
Contemporary Artists, 2nd Edition

Biography from RoGallery.com:
Yaacov Agam is one of the pioneer creators of the kinetic movement in art as well as its most outstanding contemporary representative.  Agam was born in 1928 a son of a Rabbi of Rishon LeZion (Israel), who devoted his life to the study of Jewish religious matters and wrote books.  Agam considers himself somehow as a visual continuation of his father's quest for spirituality.

He studied at the Bezalel Academy of Art in Jerusalem, and in Switzerland at the Eidgenossische Technische Hochschule and the Zurich University.  After arriving to Paris in 1951, Agam held his first one man exhibition with a great success in 1953 This exhibition consisted totally of kinetic, movable and transformable paintings, which actually was the first one-man show in art history exclusively devoted to kinetic art.

A passionate experimenter, Agam deals with such problems as the 4th dimension, simultaneity and time in the visual, plastic arts, and has extended his experiments to application in the fields of literature, music and art theory.

His works express a concept that breaks away with the established way of expressing reality in limited, static way. In his works, he strives to demonstrate the principle of reality as a continuous "becoming" rather than static "graven image." His paintings 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. give the best example of his polymorphic painting.  His works are placed in many public places including Communication x 9 on the Michigan Avenue in Chicago (1983), Communication: Night and Day at the AT&T building in New York (1974), Super Lines Volumes at the Pare Floral in Paris (1971), and his murals Peace and Life arc installed at the Parliament of Europe in Strasbourg (1977).

Agam has expressed the new concepts in monumental works as in his Jacob's Ladder, which forms the ceiling of the National Convention House in Jerusalem.  He created a "floating museum", including all the artworks for public areas and cabins, for the Carnival Cruise Line's luxury cruise ship "Celebration" (1987).  His fire-water fountain in Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv (1986) streams water, fire, and music -elements of flux and life which cannot be static - as its colored elements rotate in this multidimensional monumental work.

For the Elysee Palace in Paris, with the request of President Georges Pompidou Agam created in 1972 a whole environmental of the Salon with the walls covered with polymorphic murals of changing images a kinetic ceiling, moving transparent colored doors and a kinetic carpet on which he placed a sculpture. It embraces viewers: they are no longer looking at a framed, fixed scene, but rather arc moving within an artistic space which changes constantly according to their shifting position and point of view. Similar attempt was made for the concert hall, Forum Leverkusen in Germany in 1970.

Agam created many environmental sculptures, including Hundred Gates in the garden of the residence of the President of Israel in Jerusalem, 3 x 3 Interplay installed at the Julliard School of Music at the Lincoln Center and Wings of the Heart at J. F. Kennedy airport in New York.  In 1984, he made a sculpture Beating Heart for the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem.  In 1988, he created a transparent torah ark for the Hebrew Union College in New York, and monumental multidimensional sculpture at the Crystal Palace Hotel in Nassau, Bahamas.

In 1987, he created a memorial at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem for the victims of the holocaust.  In 1991 he created a sculpture, Tree of Life, and a room for meditation at the Haidrah Yeshiva at the Wailing Wall Plaza in Jerusalem.  He also made 14 stained glass windows for the Holocaust study center of Emunah Women of America building in Jerusalem.

In the new district of La Defense in Paris, Agam created a monumental musical fountain (1977), with its pool made of polymorphic mosaic surface. It is comprised of 66 vertical water jets shooting water up to 14 meters; the fountain was further enhanced with the addition of five new triple tulip jets in 1991.  Another fire-water fountain was inaugurated in 1991 at the Tampa Convention Center in Florida. Other monumental works, include the painting of the entire building facade of Mondrian Hotel in Los Angeles (1984) and 36-poor Villa Regina building in Florida (1983). He made a large mural for Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York, commission gained through an international competition, in 1984.

His kinetic sculpture Star of Peace was presented as the Ben-Gurion Award for an Outstanding Contribution to Understanding Between the Peoples of the Middle East to President Anwar Sadat, Prime Minister Menachem Begin and President Jimmy Carter in 1979.

Agam has delivered lectures concerning his theories and experiments at many art schools, conventions, universities and museums, and during the year of 1968 he was a guest-lecturer at Harvard University, where he conducted a seminar and course "Advanced Exploration in Visual Communication", International recognition has been widespread: Prize for Artistic Research at the Sao Paolo Biennale (1963), Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et Lettres (1974), Honorary Doctorate of Philosophy, Tel Aviv University (1975), Medal of the Council of Europe (1977), Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et Lettres (1985), Sandberg Prize from the Israel Museum, Jerusalem (1985), Palette d'Or at the International Festival at Cagnes-surMer (1985), and most recently the Grand Prize at the First International Biennale in Nagoya, Japan, ARTECH '89 (1989).

He has participated in shows all over the world and has had many one-man exhibitions, including the retrospective exhibition held at the Musee National d'art Modeme in Paris (1972), which was then shown at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, Stadtische Kunsthalle in Dusseldorf, and Tel Aviv Museum.  Another large-scale retrospective exhibit was held at the Guggenheim Museum in New York (1980). He had a large one-man exhibition at the Museum ofPontoise (1975), the Palm Spring Desert Museum, California, on an occasion of the inauguration of the museum (1976), the Museum of Art Birmingham, Alabama (1976), the Museo de Arte Modemo, Mexico (1976), the National Museum of Art, Cape Town, South Africa (1977).  The retrospective exhibition was held at the lsetan Museum in Tokyo, Daimaru Museum in Osaka and Kawasaki City Museum in Japan (1989), and at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Buenos Aires Argentina (1996).  He also held an exhibition "Selected Suites" at the Jewish Museum, New York (1975). Agam has also had many one-man shows in art galleries since 1953, including Denise Rene Gallery, Paris (1956), MarIborough-Gerson Gallery, New York (1966), Gallery Denise Rene, New York (1971) and a series of one man exhibits all over the United States at the Circle Fine Art Galleries.

His visual education method and non-verbal educational system, meant to increase the creative and intellectual abilities of the children by the usage of visual alphabet as a mother tongue, is implemented in pre-schools and kindergartens in Israel. In 1996, Agam was awarded the Jan Amos Comenius Medal 1996 from the UNESCO "for having devised a particularly effective method of visual teaching for children."

Biography from GallArt.com:
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 non-representational 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.

Biography from American Design Ltd.:
Born in 1928 a son of a Rabbi of Rishon LeZion (Israel), who devoted his life to the study of Jewish religious matters and wrote books.  Agam considers himself somehow as a visual continuation of his father's quest for spirituality.

Agam studied at the Bezalel Academy of Art in Jerusalem, and in Switzerland at the Eidgenossische Technische Hochschule and the Zurich University.  After arriving to Paris in 1951, Agam held his first one-man exhibition with a great success in 1953. This exhibition consisted totally of kinetic, movable and transformable paintings, which actually was the first one-man show in art history exclusively devoted to kinetic art.

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