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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Yaacov Agam

Fire and Water Fountain (Day and Night), 1986, Tel Aviv, Yaacov Agam
We've all, no doubt, heard someone say, "It all depends upon how you look at it." Usually, of course, this refers figuratively to some idea or event. Whether we realize it or not however, in art, the phrase can have a very literally meaning, especially when applied to sculpture with its three dimensions. Naturally not all sculpture is intended to be viewed from any of 360 degrees. Bas relief sculpture can barely be seen from more than 180 degrees. Sculptors have learned to control the viewing area of their work by sometimes placing it in or before a niche, thus allowing views from more than 180 degrees, but seldom a great deal more than 220 degrees. It takes an exceptional sculptor to create a piece seen equally well "in the round." Even Michelangelo seldom created sculpture of this sort, his David being the exception. Bernini and Rodin both mastered the art of 360, but few others have even tried. The Israeli sculptor, Yaacov Agam not only mastered this skill but gave it a whole new twist (literally).

Festival Wool Tapestry 1982, Yaacov Agam.
The colors change as one passes by the work.
In all fairness to the aforementioned stonecutters, Yaacov Agam does not carve figures, nor does he carve marble. Most of his sculptures are of steel and his paintings are of...well, paint on wood or canvas. Virtually none of them feature representational content, in fact. They do, however, "depend upon how you look at them," even his tapestry (above). Perhaps the best example of this feature can be seen in Agam's Fire and Water Fountain (top) located in Dizengoff Square (which is actually round) near the center of Tel Aviv, Israel. It not only spouts fire and water, but music, no less (for twenty minutes, every hour on the hour). More than 900 painted sheet metal rectangles, mounted triangularly, make up Agam’s abstract, colorful, kinetic art. The sculpture fountain was placed in the middle of the round "square" in 1986. More recently, it took almost a year to refurbish this piece of public art, a chore finally completed in the spring 2012. Apparently Agam himself complained about the state of the fountain during a visit to his homeland. The government spent over $2-million on its restoration.

Yaacov Agam, alive and well and living in Paris at the age of 88.
Yaacov Agam was born Yaakov Gibstein in 1928, near Rishon LeZion, then part of the Mandate of Palestine, but now central Israel near the coast. His father was a rabbi and a kabbalist (teacher of Judaism). Agam trained at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem, before moving to Zürich, Switzerland, in 1949 to complete his studies. In 1951 Agam set up shop in Paris, where he continues to live along with his daughter and two sons. Agam's first solo exhibition was at the Galerie Craven, Paris, in 1953. He exhibited three works at the 1954 Salon des Réalités Nouvelles. Agam established himself as one of the leading pioneers of kinetic art at the Le Mouvement exhibition at the Galerie Denise René, Paris, in 1955, along with such artists as Jesús Rafael Soto, Carlos Cruz-Díez, Pol Bury, Alexander Calder and Jean Tinguely.

Lenticular sculpture, Yaacov Agam
Agam's work invites viewer participation along with the frequent use of light and sound. His best known pieces include Double Metamorphosis III dating from 1965, Visual Music Orchestration from 1989, and the fountains at the La Défense District in Paris (1975). He is also known for a type of print termed a Agamograph (below), which uses lenticular printing to present radically different images, depending on the angle from which it is viewed. The lenticular technique was executed in large scale in the 30 x 30 foot (9.14 M x 9.14 M) Complex Vision of 1969, which adorns the facade of the Callahan Eye Foundation Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama.

Integrated Rainbow, 1980, Yaacov Agam
Not all of Agam's sculptures involve movement and color. Some of his pieces are fairly "human" in size, though each continues the artist's fascination with optical effects and illusions, as seen in his stainless steel works, Eighteen Levels (below-top) from 1972, and his The Ninth Power (below-bottom) dating from 1970-71. However it's hard to top turning the facade of an entire hotel into a colorful work of optical art to be seen in Agam's Dan Hotel in Tel Aviv (bottom).

Yaacov Agam sculpture--not for child's play
The colorful facade of the Dan Hotel, Tel Aviv,
by Yaacov Agam.


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