Using the French flag as its inspiration, the painting features blocks of different colors symbolizing the diversity, dynamism, and manifold perspectives of modern-day France. Agam, who currently lives in New York City, spent his youth traveling between Paris, France and Rehovot, Israel. His work has been exhibited in galleries around the globe and published in periodicals including Newsweek and Time.
“Through the colors and shapes I chose, I wanted to convey the richness of French culture, its diversity, and its energy, which is focused on the future. This is an homage to my country [France]; I consider this painting a great work that incarnates a strong message of brotherhood and hope” explained Ron Agam.
Video from the Opening Reception
Press from the Embassy
Speech given by Ambassador Antonin Baudry, President of the French Institute
Good morning everyone! Thank you for joining us at this early hour to celebrate the extraordinary artist Ron Agam and his exceptional gift to the Cultural Services and our reading room and bookshop, Albertine.
Ron, thank you for this very special, original painting. For the next two years, it will serve as a symbol of the vibrancy, diversity, and dynamism of France within our American-made mansion. Plus it was painted by our very own Chevalier, so it is doubly meaningful.
Ron, this painting – and actually all of your work – has epic gravitas. And I am not referring to the eighty pounds the painting weighs.
You create a kaleidoscope of optical experiments with a deeply human touch. Circles, squares, and dots are your vocabulary. Each juxtaposition of tones and kinetic construction is sublime. Ron, it is easy to become swept up in a torrent of your hues, and after that, we can’t help but see the world differently.
You have a long history of helping us view the Other in a more positive light. Having spent your childhood travelling around France and the Middle East, your international experiences crystallized when you became an adult and took a lead role in building bridges between Jewish communities in America, Israel, and France.
And this diversity brings us back to your painting. The colored blocks on a backdrop of our flag is a metaphor for, as you put it, “the richness of French culture, its diversity, and its energy, which is focused on the future.”
I will take a risk – forego my French modesty for just a second – and say that I agree. France draws its strength from a body of citizens with ancestry spanning our globe. In its deep and pervasive diversity, France finds vibrant unity. We are a nation of writers, poets, scientists, explorers, mathematicians. And it is not because we have the highest number of Nobel Prizes for literature or Fields Medals per capita that France is looking toward the future –though that helps! – We are only as strong as the solidarity that we cultivate among us.
In a climate where universal respect for culture, religion, differing political views, and personal values are tested, Ron’s painting serves as a promise that time and attention will sew the fragile seams of our society.
With our reading room and bookshop – Albertine – our goal is the same. Maybe it’s a French thing, but we really believe that books are vehicles that strengthen mutual understanding. By building a space where all New Yorkers could take time and explore books from 30 different countries, we hoped that understanding, cultivated through French-American intellectual exchange, would light up in New York and around the United States. And I am pleased to say this really is happening.
I haven’t mentioned it yet but Ron has actually offered two generous gifts today. A limited number of his special edition paintings will be available for purchase inside Albertine and benefits will go to supporting its cultural activities. Thank you, Ron, for this kind gesture. I encourage you all to come take a look as soon as they become available.
Ron reminds us that France is more than Descartes and Rimbaud, more than bic and Babar, even more than Haussmann and libertinage.
We are a multi-layered, complex, even contradictory nation with both light and darkness in its past. Ron, your work helps us reconcile the crisscrossing strands of our nationalisms and construct a complete picture of our country. Your technicolor cubes evoke a vision of history that translates to trust, acceptance, and inclusiveness in our present.
Ron, thank you so much for this deeply meaningful gift. I know its reverberations will be felt by everyone who passes through the doors of Albertine.
by Dr. Jerome Neutres
“Material and Spiritual”, “The Circle and Infinity”; “Metaphysics of the Square”: the titles of the series in which Ron Agam arranges his works say a lot about the guiding principle behind them. Ron Agam is a modern humanist, and when he is not painting he is reading or writing. It isn’t surprising that for this artist, art should not only enable us to see but also to think. The visual work of Ron Agam’s painting is in the highest tradition of the exploration of the essence of form. In this perceptual art, as Duchamp said, “It is the regardeurs who make the picture.” The encounter of our retina with the formal vertigo of Ron Agam gives rise to a phenomenon, a visual emotion that enables us to re-see the essence and the possibilities of fundamental geometrical shapes. The painting seems alive, it moves and vibrates. What do you see when you look? That is the question.
A painter at heart, Ron Agam is continuously involved in a special play with colors, with the phenomenology of colors, one should say. Ron’s palette encompasses a rare range. The artist does not hesitate to explore even the most psychedelic pigments. He explores all the possibilities of the colors. The softest nuances give way to another series of the most vibrant hues. “Mix it up, that’s the spirit”, as Paul Valéry said. It’s the infinity of the color that is celebrated in this work.
There is a history of geometric abstraction in art, since the first works by the artists Duchamp and Delaunay appeared at the beginning of the 20th century. In the fifties and sixties this theme brought together a new generation of artists. One of them was a certain Yaacov Agam. Agam is one of the founding fathers of this artistic school called “kinetic art” which takes its name from Le mouvement exhibition in Paris at the Galerie Denise René in 1955. As never before, it explored the artistic possibilities of the vitality of vision, the experience of the visible, the sensory impressions that the eye can be subject to and the evolution of the work through the participation of the spectator. The work of Yaacov Agam is immense and legitimately recognized as such by art historians. Kinetic art, visual research, abstraction, Ron Agam has been immersed in it since his childhood. However today, you can’t help but notice that Ron has made a name for himself – a first name of his own. His work is not in opposition to that of his father, it does not repudiate it, but it transcends it in one sense, giving it a second life, another first name. Ron has not run away from his father’s field of exploration. He has the remarkable courage to build an original body of work, a singular vision, in the lines etched by his father.
“Dream between the lines” is also one of Ron’s titles that I will close with here. Artist, above all else, Ron Agam emphasizes that it all starts with the imaginary. This is the painter’s condition. It is in dreaming between the lines that the spirit enters the art work. Ron Agam shows us in his work that by dreaming with the lines, by interlinking them in a thousand ways, letting them play, freeing them in one word, we have a chance to see them move one day. Could what is true for art be true for the world and for life?
Dr. Jerome Neutres
Curator, writer. Special Advisor of the Reunion des Musées Nationaux-Grand Palais, Paris
“I consider Ron Agam as one of the leading and most important artists of his generation,” says Delattre. “No doubt about it. The French flag that he painted as a gift to France is a masterpiece and it’s hanging in my office in Washington. I’m as proud to show it to my visitors as the masterpiece by [Pierre] Bonnard that we have in our residence there.”
By Haim Handwerker
With his penchant for vibrant colors, Ron Agam recalls his famous father, but the son is determined to forge his own path as a painter.
Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman of the Weinstein Company, a multimedia production company, and one the most powerful people in Hollywood, recently acquired two works by Agam. Not renowned Israeli artist Yaacov
Agam, a founding member of school of kinetic art, but of his son, Ron.
“I see a lot of vision and sensitivity in Ron’s works,” Weinstein says. “I love the feeling his work gives me. It has things that remind me of Salvador Dali when he was young.”
“…abstract artist of diverse, innovative works characterized
by geometric shapes, pure color, and lucid design.”
by Lilly Wei
Ron Agam is an abstract artist of diverse, innovative works characterized by geometric shapes, pure color, and lucid design. He is also a photographer of note, both of portraits and striking, oversized close-ups of representational images that verge on the abstract. He says he sees only patterns when he works, not the actual rose, for instance. Experimenting with lenticular printing and holography, his curiosity about mediums and their potential is ongoing and wide-ranging. Tilting toward the modernist, his practice is a reconsideration of Russian Constructivism, de Stijl, Op and Minimalist art, all movements that have intrigued and influenced him. When asked why he became an abstract artist focused on color, Agam said, “I was always surrounded by abstraction. It was like being thrown into the ocean and told to swim and my ocean was abstraction, I didn’t know anything else.”
Agam uses both canvas and wood as his supports, the latter sometimes treated three-dimensionally and might be classified as sculptural reliefs, filled with raised circles, squares and other such forms. His production is marked by the immediacy of its impact, the colors extraordinarily vivid, often enhanced by their cannily calibrated juxtapositions. Usually based on a variant of the grid, Agam’s compositions are elegant, clean, the overall execution highly polished. The phenomenology of the perceptual, the effects of color, light, shape, their interaction in space and the optical movement they create comprise the core of his astonishing production. He both makes his works by hand and utilizes technology but he does not fetishize either, he said. Nonetheless, Agam revels in the sensuousness and the physicality of materials, the paint, the wood, even the epoxy he spreads over the surfaces of some of his works like a second, reflective, transparent skin.
“…The phenomenology of the perceptual, the effects of color, light, shape, their interaction in space and the optical movement they create comprise the core of his astonishing production.”
Although surrounded by art and involved in the international art world from infancy, he began painting seriously only a few years ago. Soon after, he added small wood panels with raised images created by a high-speed router to his repertoire, inspired by Jean (Hans) Arp, whom Agam has admired since he was a child. From there, his ambitions and his scale expanded exponentially, his sense of urgency spurred by a feeling that time was slipping away from him and he needed to catch up with his destiny. He works intuitively, fearlessly, and incessantly. Stimulated by challenges, he likes to quote Matisse’s observation that an artist should not permit himself to be imprisoned by anything in the field of abstraction.
His recent projects continue to explore the themes and motifs that he first established when he began to make art, although the present works are generally less giddy, less hallucinogenic than some of his previous, more optically unsettling lenticular and holographic ventures.
That said, his vertigo-inducing pinstriped blue painting of two different shades of blue against a white ground packs quite a visual punch as it advances and recedes, as does a red octagon that suggests a wavering abstract flower. Its chiseled, angled swirl of white lines, as well as its irregular perimeter, stirs the surface into choppy, mesmerizing motion, as if seen under the influence of an intoxicant. Another work is calmer, its pristine white field supporting a three-tiered trio of what looks like giant sugar cubes attached precariously to it at a single point, the upper faces—each painted a different color—tipped upward toward the field, lighting it with a small beam of reflected color, a low-tech, environmentally friendly illumination system. A related work also features a series of white cubes, only much smaller, arranged as a grid of eight by eight little squares, the sweet colors, like those of candy or pills, pulsing gently but insistently.
Other recent works are more or less straightforward paintings of nested squares that recall those of Josef Albers, Frank Stella and Richard Anuszkiewicz. Agam, however, adds his own twist to them, such as in Disruptive #2, by superimposing another system of chevroned stripes over the main composition, creating an optical collision, complicating the reading of a work that, as always, explores the compelling, subjective experience of color.
Lilly Wei is an art critic for the major art publications in the US and independent curator based in New York.