Thu, May 27, 2010 - Page 13 News List

Visual symphonies

Yaacov Agam, an artistic pioneer whose art weaves time, movement and color together, recently unveiled his latest work in Taipei

By Catherine Shu  /  STAFF REPORTER

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Yaacov Agam’s artwork plays with time and dimension. It constantly transforms and gleans inspiration from sources as diverse as religion and physics. The Israeli artist, who lives and works in Paris, is famed for his pioneering contributions to kinetic art.

One of his latest pieces, The Heart of the Fountainhead, was unveiled earlier this month in Taipei City. It encompasses the exterior of Shuiyuan Market (水源市場) near National Taiwan University, with rainbow-colored panels concealing air conditioners (which Agam refers to as “visual aggression”). The centerpiece is a giant mural facing Roosevelt Road (羅斯福路) that relies on audience participation to fully blossom. From the left of the artwork, viewers see a blue and white grid, with ovals, circles and triangles sparsely interspersed throughout. From the right is a geometric rainbow that spirals into a white center. When shoppers enter the market from an overhead walkway, with the artwork above them, they see a carefully balanced mixture of the two compositions slowly dissolve into nine large prisms.

Agam was born in 1928 in Rishon LeZion, then part of British-administered Palestine. His father was an Orthodox Jewish rabbi and as a young boy Agam worried about his parent’s reaction to his budding interest in art.

“It is written in the Bible not to do a graven image. The sixth commandment is not to kill, the eighth is not to steal and the second is not to make a graven image,” explains Agam. The rabbi turned out to be supportive of his son’s passion, but Agam saw the second commandment as a challenge and inspiration to go beyond “static” paintings. He began to explore the possibilities of creating abstract artwork that was kinetic and had four — and even five or six — dimensions.

Like The Heart of the Fountainhead, the images in Agam’s art shift in relation to the viewer. The fourth dimension in Agam’s paintings and sculpture is time: Agam seeks to both defy its limits and honor its passage.

For example, his sculptural installation Peaceful Communication With the World, created for last year’s World Games in Kaohsiung, is designed to change perspective as a child grows. Beating Heart, a small kinetic sculpture made of nesting metal rings that Agam carries with him, separates, undulates and quivers like a visual representation of sound waves; no movement is ever the same.

Judaism continues to influence Agam’s work, but his message is universal. When asked why he often uses rainbow colors, Agam repeats the story of Noah and the Ark. After the flood, God promised Noah never to destroy the earth again and placed a rainbow in the sky as a symbol of that covenant.

“It is a visual prayer of open peace, reminding that everyone is obligated to keep nature, to keep the environment, to keep peace, to keep love, to keep friendship, all the values that keep the world going,” says Agam. “If not, everything can be destroyed in a minute.”

His work has been displayed in museums around the world, including the Guggenheim Museum and Museum of Modern Art in New York City and the Musee National d’Art Moderne in Paris, but Agam sounds most proud when he talks of his public art, referring to traditional museums as “cemeteries of art.” In additional to Peaceful Communication With the World and The Heart of the Fountainhead, his outdoor installations include the New Orleans Holocaust Memorial and fountains in Paris’ La Defense district and Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv. Agam also describes the Agam Method, an art education program he developed for young children, as the most important accomplishment of his life.

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