Yaakov Agam was born Yaakov Gipstein on 11 May 1928 in what we know today as 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 Kunstgewerbeschule 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. Artistic career Agam’s first solo exhibition was at the Galerie Graven 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 the Le Mouvement exhibition at the Galerie Denise René in 1955, alongside such artists as Jesús Rafael Soto, Carlos Cruz-Díez, Pol Bury, Alexander Calder, and Jean Tinguely.
In 1964, Agam wrote his artistic credo, unchanged since then. “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’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.
He is the subject of two documentary films by American filmmaker Warren Forma: “Possibilities of Agam” (1967) and “Agam and…” (1980). In 1996 he was awarded the Jan Amos Comenius Medal by UNESCO for the “Agam Method” for visual education of young children. In 2005, he was voted the 195th-greatest Israeli of all time, in a poll by the Israeli news website Ynet to determine whom the general public considered the 200 greatest Israelis. In 2009, at age 81, Agam created a monument for the World Games in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, titled “Peaceful Communication with the World.” It consists of nine 10 m-high hexagon pillars positioned in diamond or square formation. The sides of the pillars are painted in different patterns and hues, totaling more than 180 shades. One side of each pillar is also lined to segment the structure into sections so that children’s perception of the pillar will change as they grow because they will see a different pillar at a different height.
One of Agam’s more notable creations is the Hanukkah Menorah at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 59th Street in New York City, sponsored by the Lubavitch Youth Organization. The 32-foot-high, gold colored, 4,000-pound steel structure is recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the World’s Largest Hanukkah Menorah. It uses real oil lamps, which are lighted every year during Hanukkah, with the aid of cherry-picking machines.
Agam is one of the highest selling Israeli artists. In a Sotheby’s New York auction in November 2009, when his “4 Themes Contrepoint” 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, estimated at $150,000 to $250,000, his outsize kinetic painting “Growth”, done in oil on wood panel and shown at the 1980 retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum, sold for the record-breaking sum of $698,000.
This extraordinary Haggadah was handmade by Yaacov Agam in the late 1970s. Each page is a hand-pulled from the original plates, created and signed by the artist. Bound together, these pages compile an entire Haggadah filled with Agam’s distinctive artwork.
Issued in a limited edition of 584 by a London publisher, these original Haggadot were first printed and recorded in Paris in 1985. However, the artwork and plates were likely created in 1979, given that a single image of this rare Haggadah appears in the book Art and Judaism, edited by Agam and Bernard Mandelbaum, and published in New York by B.L.D. Limited in 1981. This was a significant period in Agam’s oeuvre.
In 1985, the first print—the Alef/Alef (A/A) copy of the original Haggadah—was presented to Chaim Herzog, the President of Israel from 1983 to 1993. Herzog, the son of the distinguished Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog, immigrated to Palestine in 1935 and was first elected to the Knesset in 1981. The Alef/Alef (A/A) is now part of the permanent collection of the President of Israel’s house in Jerusalem, Israel.
This Hannukiah is a four-dimensional menorah, with multiple arrangements made possible by moving the stems. The dreidels lift out and can spin each on their own 24-kt. gold base. It also comes in the original box from the 1950s. This artwork appears in the book Art and Judaism, edited by Yaacov Agam and Bernard Mandelbaum (New York: B.L.D. Ltd., 1981).
Medium: 24-kt. Gold on Brass
Size: 14 x 9 in
This beautiful menorah in a 24-Kt. gold finish consisting of 8 pieces that fit together to spell the word Shalom in Hebrew. The letters swivel on the base to form a Star of David. It stands 17 ½ inches tall and is hand-signed / engraved on the base by Agam. Each one is numbered from an edition of 180. It also includes the original certificate of authenticity, original leather and velvet box.
Medium: 24-kt. Gold on Brass
Size: 14 x 16 in