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. My aim is to show what can be seen within the limits of possibility which exists in the midst of coming into being.
– Agam, 1964 credo
Yaacov Agam was born Yaakov Gipstein on 11 May 1928, in Rishon LeZion, then Mandate Palestine. His father, Yehoshua Gibstein, was a rabbi and a kabbalist. Agam trained at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem, before moving to Zürich, Switzerland in 1949, where he studied under Johannes Itten (1888–1967) at the Kunstgewerbe Schule, and was also influenced by the painter and sculptor Max Bill (1908–1994).
In 1951 Agam went to Paris, France, where he still lives. He has a daughter and two sons, one of whom is the photographer Ron Agam. Agam’s first solo exhibition was at the Galerie Craven, Paris, in 1953, and he exhibited three works at the 1954 Salon des Réalités Nouvelles. He established himself as one of the leading pioneers of kinetic art at theLe Mouvement exhibition at the Galerie Denise René, Paris, in 1955, alongside such artists as Jesús Rafael Soto, Carlos Cruz-Díez, Pol Bury, Alexander Calder and Jean Tinguely. Agam’s work is usually abstract, kinetic art, with movement, viewer participation and frequent use of light and sound. His works are placed in many public places. His best known pieces include “Double Metamorphosis III” (1965), “Visual Music Orchestration” (1989) and fountains at the La Défense district in Paris (1975) and the “Fire and Water Fountain” in the Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv (1986). He is also known for a type of print known as an Agamograph, 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′ (9.14 M x 9.14 M) “Complex Vision” (1969) which adorns the facade of the Callahan Eye Foundation Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama. Agam had a retrospective exhibition in Paris at the Musée National d’Art Moderne in 1972, and at the Guggenheim Museum in New York in 1980, among others. His works are held in numerous museum collections including the Museum of Modern Art and the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum.
In May 2014, Agam’s piece “Faith- Visual Pray” was presented to Pope Francis by El Al Israel Airlines’ president, David Maimon. The piece included significant symbols of both Jewish and Christian faiths. Agam is the highest-selling Israeli artist. In a Sotheby’s New York auction in November 2009, when his “4 Themes Contrepoint” was sold for $326,500, he said: “This does not amaze me … my prices will go up, in keeping with the history I made in the art world.” A year later, his “Growth”, an outsize kinetic painting done in oil on a wood panel, which was shown at the 1980 retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum, estimated at $150,000 to $250,000, sold for the record-breaking sum of $698,000.