Yaacov Agam

The artist's unique geographical creations have made him a leading pioneer of optic and kinetic art.

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"Jacob's Ladder," by Agam. Image used with permission from the Robert Roman Gallery.

The second formative influence on Agam was the Swiss painter, sculptor, and designer, Max Bill (b. 1908), who may have inspired Agam's artistic ideology and work no less than Itten. Bill was one of the leaders of geometric, non-figurative, or abstract art, which he entitled "Concrete Art." In his theoretical writings, Bill was much concerned with the relationship between aesthetic and mathematical theories, and his ideas appear to have deeply impressed Agam. In addition, it was from Max Bill's metal sculptures, with their polished, shining forms and precise, geometric style, that Agam inherited his particular approach to sculpture.

The third important source of inspiration was the architectural historian and theoretician, Siegried Giedion--the author of a well-known book, Space, Time and Architecture--whose classes Agam attended at the Zürich Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule.

Giedion advised Agam to continue his studies in Chicago. However, on his way to the United States, and after an intensive study-tour in Italy, he settled in Paris in 1951. In Paris, despite many hardships and utter lack of any financial means, Agam worked and studied indefatigably, also becoming familiar with the contemporary artistic milieu. …

The Element of Time

We have seen that Agam had already been attracted by geometric abstraction when he was studying in Zurich. In Paris, he was equally fascinated by kinetic art, and he soon began to investigate the possibilities of merging the "element of time" into his art, and finally created his own particular version of abstract kinetic art.

In 1952, Agam created his first transformable works with parts that could be moved and change place and position on a panel, thus offering the viewer the possibility of creating innumerable new abstract compositions. Later, in his metal sculptures, Agam applied the same principle of allowing the spectator to take an active part in the creation of new compositions.

In 1953, Agam created his first "polyphonic paintings." In these works, two or more different abstract compositions are painted on both protruding sides of a relief of a zigzag section, in such a way that one composition is seen when the panel is viewed from the right side, and another when viewed from the left. The frontal view of the panel presents a series of varied compositions which result from the merging--or the "fusion" as Agam calls it--of several main compositions.

Agam transformed this simple device into rich and complex works of art by applying it to his highly developed geometric compositions. Moreover, the spectator perceives not only the gradual merging of one composition into the other but may also comprehend each successive view as a perfectly independent new composition. This way of achieving variety and multiplicity of artistic content in a single work has been constantly developed by Agam throughout his artistic career.

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Avraham Ronen is an Emeritus Professor of the History of Art at Tel Aviv University.