Jesús Rafael Soto

Venezuela, 1923 - 2005


Jesús Rafael Soto was born in Cuidad Bolívar, Venezuela in 1923. He began his artistic career as a boy painting cinema posters in his native city. Painter, sculptor and kinetic artist, Soto studied at the Escuela de Artes Plásticas in Caracas from 1942 to 1947, and from 1947 to 1950 he was the director of the Escuela de Bellas Artes in Maracaibo. At first he painted principally under the influence of Cézanne and Cubism and to a lesser extent under that of Mondrian and the Soviet Constructivists, whose work he knew from reproductions. In 1950 he settled in Paris, where he began producing abstract paintings composed of serialized and geometric forms that suggested effects of motion. These revealed Soto’s affinities with other artists later associated with Op Art. He began associating with Yaacov Agam, Jean Tinguely, Victor Vasarely, and other artists connected with the Salon des Realites Nouvelles and the Galerie Denise Rene. He became world-famous as a kinetic sculptor. Soto is particularly well known for his penetrables, interactive sculptures which consist of square arrays of thin, dangling tubes through which observers can walk. It has been said of Soto's art that it is inseparable from the viewer; it can only stand completed in the illusion perceived by the mind as a result of observing the piece. His first kinetic work, Spiral (1955; priv. col.), consisted of two overlapping perspex sheets, each painted with a spiral to produce an apparently vibrating image. The exhibition Le Mouvement at the Galerie Denise René, Paris, in 1955, at which Spiral was shown along with works by Victor Vasarely, Yaacov Agam, Jean Tinguely, Pol Bury and others, marked the official birth of Kinetic art. Soto preferred industrial and modern synthetic materials such as nylon, steel, thin metal rods and industrial paint in the series of works incorporating real and apparent movement that he began in 1955. In the early 1960s he explored the textures of objets trouvés, including old wood, discarded and rusty wire and unraveled rope, in such works as Old Timber (1960; untraced). His kinetic works created oppositions between static and dynamic elements so as to invite the spectator’s active participation both visually and intellectually. His Penetrables of the 1960s took this involvement one step further by inviting the spectator into a transparent, fluid and moving mass of suspended nylon threads. The transparent perspex Cube with Ambiguous Space, which he exhibited at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, in 1968 deliberately dislocated the spectator’s ability to distinguish between solid objects and open space, between reality and illusion. This was followed in 1969 by two murals executed for the UNESCO buildings in Paris. Soto pursued his investigation of brain and eye in the 1970s in such works as Suspended Apparent Volume (1976; Toronto, Royal Bank of Canada), a monumental assemblage of aluminum tubes painted yellow and white and suspended from the ceiling so as to form part of the architecture. Other works of this period that reveal Soto’s interest in the relation between architecture and sculpture include monumental environmental installations intended to occupy space in an urban setting, such as the Monument to the Nationalization of Steel (180×120 m), commissioned in 1975 by the Venezuelan President Carlos Andrés Pérez for Ciudad Guayana. In his kinetic works of the 1980s, such as the Ambivalences series, Soto introduced a variety of colors (in contrast to the deliberately restricted color range that had dominated his early works) arranged almost arbitrarily to create an impression of vibrating movements and a destabilized physical structure (e.g. Ambivalence on a Rhombus, 1981; priv. col.). Other important works of the 1980s include the large kinetic sculpture (1983) at the Chacaito metro station at Caracas; the ceiling (1983) of the Teresa Carreño Theatre, Caracas; and Nylon Cube (1983), a cube formed of nylon threads that

Artworks by Jesús Rafael Soto