Abell Auction Co. Introduces the Most Important Yaacov Agam Work Ever Offered at Auction
Abell Auction Co. introduces an iconic large-scale stained-glass piece by renowned artist Yaacov Agam at its upcoming September Fine Art Auction
Known as the Spreckels’ window, this 1985 large-scale stained-glass work by internationally renowned Israeli artist Yaacov Agam (1928-) once adorned the Grand Lobby entrance of San Diego’s Spreckels Theater and was commissioned by Jacqueline Littlefield, the theater President and a patron of the arts. Next to being an important part of the history of this iconic early 20 th -Century performing arts center, the abstract-looking glass work crystallizes the virtuosity, distinctive spiritually-charged abstract aesthetic, and groundbreaking art concepts the father of Op and Kinetic art has explored for more than six decades.
The impressive 20-foot-long two-sided work is constructed with thousands of alternating rectangular and square glass pieces held together by a black lead armature with 16 panels that gives life to a striking three-dimensional structure composed of triangular prisms. The mosaic-like sections of this stained-glass artwork are tinted in a symphony of yellow, blue, white, orange, green, purple, pink, red, and blue vibrant hues which together generate ethereal beams of colored light that connect us to the mystical realm. Alongside the compelling abstract language of the polymorph window, the geometrical design of this sculptural composition creates a powerful visual illusion and appears to move and shift when viewed from different angles. These aspects further reveal the interactive vein of Agam’s practice and uncover his relentless quest for exploring human perception, in this case, by allowing us to discover framed squares next to other colors, shapes, and patterns. Contrary to other kinetic artworks by Agam, which can be moved or altered by the viewer, this massive glass piece is static. However, it still succeeds in being a constantly changing image through the strategic disposition of the colors and forms that bring forth the artist’s mastery of geometry and color theory.
The intricate abstract composition of the Spreckels’ window constitutes a fine example of Agam’s style and relates to other of his works with different types of materials ranging from wood and metal to plastic and paper. For instance, the layout of this piece speaks to the “polyphonic paintings”; first created in the 1950s, in which Agam includes two or more different abstract compositions on both protruding sides of a relief of a zigzag section, in such a way that when viewed from different angles the viewer uncovers varied images. (Avraham Ronen, Beyond the Invisible An Exhibition by Yaacov Agam, Embassy of Israel in India, February 2016, [accessed 15/08/2022]). While formally related to the artist’s polyphonic works which give form to the notion that everything in nature is a fragment of a larger unity, in the Spreckels’ window the seemingly endless possibilities granted by the reflection of light on the glass surface add yet another layer to Agam’s interdisciplinary practice and evidence his versatility as a prolific artist guided by his spiritual beliefs.
In terms of the influences behind the Spreckels’ window, its composition and bold colors speak to the legacy of early 20th-century European artists like Piet Mondrian who sought to uncover the basic structures of nature through his spiritually inspired geometric art. Next to this, the artist’s innovative handling of glass had some precedents mainly at the Bauhaus where artists like Josef Albers infused stained glass with a new minimalist aesthetic. (Claire Lui, The Little-Known Glass Works of Josef Albers, Guggenheim, 2017, [accessed 15/08/2022]). Next to this, it is important to add that in the 1950s, Agam studied under the Bauhaus; color-theoretician, Johannes Itten, who also led the short-lived Bauhaus glass painting workshop in the 1920s and most likely introduced Agam to this technique. At the same time, Agam also knew famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright and was influenced by his ideas which included the innovative use of decorated glass with geometric abstractions as part of his projects which the architect called “light screens.” (Frank Lloyd Wright’s Leaded Glass, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Trust, [accessed 15/08/2022]). All in all, during the 20th century the ancient art of stained glass was reinvented by avant garde artists. Agam joined in this journey and infused the millenary craft with his seemingly endless creativity.
Whilst nurtured by diverse modernist artistic currents, through the Spreckels’ window Agam transformed the traditionally plain stained-glass window into a multidimensional sculpture and exploited glass reflective qualities to create visual effects that also relate to his intention of combining formalist art with kabbalistic mysticism. As Art Curator Sayako Aragaki explains: “Agam in his work created a fusion between the realm of art and his own Jewish identity, which made his creations strikingly original and expressive of a higher spiritual truth.” (Sayako Aragaki, Agam-Beyond the Visible, Jerusalem, 2007, p. 18.) In this way, for the artist glass was one more means to lend visible the incommensurable mystery of the spiritual. Interestingly, over the years, the artist revisited this medium and created stained-glass windows for the historic Synagogue Loewenstrasse, in Zurich, and for the Jossy Berger Holocaust Study Center of Emunah Women of America, Community College, in Jerusalem, (1987). Particularly, the fourteen three-dimensional stained-glass windows he created for the Holocaust Study Center appear to be strongly influenced by what he achieved with the Spreckels’ window a few years before. (Sayako Aragaki, Agam-Beyond the Visible, Jerusalem, 2007, p. 114.)
Notably, upon its completion, in 1985, the unveiling of this artwork at the Spreckels Theater was a highly anticipated event for San Diego’s cultural life. It could not have been any other way. By the 1980s Agam was already an internationally noted artist and had retrospective exhibitions at the Musée National d’Art Moderne, in Paris, in 1972, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, in New York, in 1980. Furthermore, the piece complemented the decoration of one of the most important cultural spots in the city’s downtown Theater District which was declared a historical site in the 1970s and was privately commissioned by a well-respected art patron like Jaqueline Littlefield, who inherited the performing arts center lease in 1946 after her father died. The technical complexity of the work was also a challenge for Agam who created the piece at the height of his artistic powers. At the time the artist said to the Los Angeles Times: (The window is) “unique in the world,” adding, “creating the window was a challenge that fell between the possible and the impossible.” (Hilliard Harper, Agam Creates an Environment, Los Angeles Time, Nov. 1985, [accessed 14/08/2022]).
For more than forty years, the window was admired by all the theater-goers who got amazed by the colors, forms, and textures that seem to dance from this groundbreaking stained- glass piece. After Jaqueline Littlefield passed away in 2019, the performing arts center was sold to be completely restored. Resulting from this, the large-scale window, which remains in excellent condition, has been carefully removed from its original location. Without a doubt, the beautiful Spreckels’ window carries an important historical significance and it manifests Agam’s artistic credo: “I tried to go beyond the decorative expression of most of the abstract painters of the day. I thought I could create a greater spirituality by introducing inner mobility into my works. In this way, I wanted to overcome the limits of visual expression.” (Frank Popper, Agam, New York, 1976, p. 18). Certainly, this hypnotic abstract work exudes a highly energetic inner mobility before our very eyes.
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