Agam and the Israeli Spirit of Art

Tags: Arts and Culture, Ondria Rees

By Ondria Camile Rees

Yaacov Agam is one of Israel’s most famous artists and internationally praised as one of the greatest artists of the modern age. Often referred to as the father of kinetic art, Agam has invented unique creations that intentionally transcend time and space. Moreover, all of his artwork, directly or indirectly, function as reminders of the connection the Jewish people have with the Divine, and reflect the essence of Agam’s own spirituality.

Even at the age of 90 years old, Yaacov Agam is still actively evolving his technique and creating sculptures.

Yaacov Agam by Edward Kaprov

Born in Rishon LeZion in May 1928, he studied at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem before moving to Paris, France in 1951. In Paris, Agam acquainted himself with emerging surrealist artists and attended gatherings on the purpose and vision on the modern art movement. At the same times, he was paying for his own solo exhibitions and expanding his network which led him to meet Salvador Dali, one of the most influential and widely praised surrealists of the 20th century. As a result, Agam was plunged into the international stage.

Growing up with a rabbi for a father, Yaacov’s religious and spiritual background would affect every aspect of his personal and creative life. The religious commandment to not make a graven image of challenged Agam’s desire to create permanent pieces of art. What does a Jew do in the situation where his faith is in conflict with his professional aspiration and passion? He improvises! Agam became a pioneer of kinetic art, any medium that contains movement perceivable by the viewer or depends on motion for its effect, because he was searching for a way to make a piece of art that will always change instead of a permanent or “graven” creation.

When the Fire and Water Fountain in Dizengoff Square in; Tel Aviv; needed a new look, Agam was recruited to give it a makeover. Using his unique style of engagement with art, it became possible to walk around the fountain and watch how changes in appearance. He incorporated moving features in every angle someone would look at it, making it a multidimensional, multisensory experience for all viewers.

Fire and Water Fountain by Ori Lubin

Agam credits God and uses his religious understanding to inspire his designs. In Hebrew, the words “fire” and “water” are “esh” and “mayim”. In Judaism, “Eshmayim” is one of the words that refer to “Heaven”, drawn from the Book of Genesis. The Tel Aviv fountain itself is very colorful like a rainbow, symbolic of mankind’s covenant with God after the Great Flood from the story of Noah’s Ark.

Like our relationship with our faith and our fellow man, Agam’s art defies time and is timeless. A common motif he implements in all his work is the fourth dimension: time. According to Agam, time can never be repeated, nor can it be expected. Each moment is significant and unique; seeing an Agam sculpture will surprise you at first sight and you learn about the sculpture over time as you inspect every moving and changing feature.

There is no “present” in Hebrew, but a constant “becoming”, which ties into Jewish ideology defining God. The root words of God’s Name is “Mehaveh Ou Mithaveh”, which translates to “constant change”. In the end, Agam’s faith in a God that changes and transcends all things coincided well with his pursuit to make art that transcends time.

Agam Holocaust memorial - by Social_Stratification on Flickr

Like many Israelis, Yaacov Agam was able to pioneer something new. Agam took on the challenge of creating art while simultaneously obeying Jewish tradition. After 90 years of being Israel’s artist, he is still evolving his style and has not stopped creating intellectual paintings and sculptures. And after 90 years, he is still an inspiration to many artists of all different medium.

Be inspired by Agam and create your own Agamograph or Kinetic Art for Israel!


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About the Author

Ondria Camile Rees
Ondria Camile Rees is a proud Jew by Choice, having converted in 2013. On Birthright Israel in June of 2016 she fell in love with the country, and made aliyah in 2020. Over the summer of 2018 she interned for the Israel Forever Foundation, and has been a VCI Ambassador ever since. After completing her degree in design and her aliyah, she drafted into the IDF in 2021.

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Tags: Arts and Culture, Ondria Rees