Lot 167: Yaacov Agam
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In 1964, Israeli Kinetic artist Yaacov Agam laid out his artistic credo. His statement detailed how he began producing the kinetic and optical art for which he is now so widely known. "My intention was 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 explained. Often called the "Father of kinetic art," Agam's vibrant, dynamic works demonstrate an ongoing preoccupation with time and movement, teasing out allusions to fourth dimension where time is both regulated and made visible. "For twenty years, I tried, and finally I understood, the image must be something that becomes, not something that is," he recounted in 1971. "Where is truth, where is the true order? The only truth is the truth of states of being, and the passage of time which destroys itself."
Agam first received formal training as an artist at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem. He studied under Mordecai Ardon, who introduced Agam to his former teacher at the Bauhaus, color theorist Johannes Itten, who was then cultivating a practice in Zurich. Agam briefly moved to Zurich to study under Itten, then continued his studies at the Atelier d’art abstrait and the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris, where he lives and works to this day.
His works, which span the scope of sculpture, serigraphy, painting, ceramics, etchings, drawings, and stained glass, typically enlist viewer participation and often incorporate elements of light and sound. The son of an Orthodox Rabbi and Kabbalist, Agam's formalist artworks often draw on elements of Kabbalistic mysticism and incorporate aspects of esoteric philosophies derived from other religions. Melding formalism and mysticism, Agam has continually countered the label of abstraction being connected to his work. "Abstract art shows a situation on a canvas. I show a state of being which does not exist, the imperceptible absence of an image," he insists. "The infinity of possibilities, opposing the chance of a presence, a possibility."
There is no passive absorption when viewing a work by Agam: the viewer is an active participant in engaging and setting his works into motion. His best-known series of works are comprised of a series of lenticular painted panels that are devised to continually shift and oscillate as viewers change their position. The similarities between this early painted wood relief, Untitled (c. 1960) (Lot 167), and later kinetic sculpture, Continuity (1980) (Lot 168), illustrate how even though the artist employed increasingly complex techniques, the shifting "state of being" enacted through the movement of the viewer remains the key to fully activating the works. As is the case with the artist's oeuvre as a whole, these works are intended to remain in a condition of perpetual flux, suspended in an ongoing state of "becoming" in order to, as Agam himself puts it, "show what can be seen within the limits of possibility which exists in the midst of coming into being."
Shapiro, Morris. "Yaacov Agam—21st Century Genius." Park West Gallery, 13 Oct. 2010.
"The Asian Age: Art and Its Movements." Embassy of Israel in India, Embassy of Israel in India, 19 Feb. 2016.