Jesús Rafael Soto (1923-2005)


signed, dated and titled 'Soto, 1971, CARIBE' (on the verso)
acrylic on wood with metal rods and monofilament
50 1⁄2 x 51 1⁄2 x 8 1⁄2 in. (129 x 131 x 21.6 cm.)
Executed in 1971.
Private collection, Caracas (acquired directly from the artist).
Private collection, New York (acquired from the above by the present owner).
Further details
1 Jesús Rafael Soto, quoted in Ariel Jiménez, Conversations with Jesús Soto (Caracas: Fundación Cisneros, 2005), 168, 170.
2 Guy Brett, Soto, October-November 1969 (New York: Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, 1969), 14.
3 Ibid., 15-16.

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Lot Essay

Soto belongs to the generation of young Latin American artists that burst upon the Paris scene in the 1950s, channeling concrete geometries into the radical innovations of Kineticism and Op art. After training at the Escuela de Artes Plásticas in Caracas, Soto moved to Paris in 1950 and was soon drawn into the orbit of the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles and the Galerie Denise René, the cradle of postwar geometric abstraction. Working alongside an international group of artists that included Yaacov Agam, Jean Tinguely, and Julio Le Parc, Soto explored perceptual problems first proposed in the work of Piet Mondrian and later radicalized by the optical experiments of Victor Vasarely, searching for the means of pushing abstraction beyond mere illusionism. “I had to throw myself into the process of abstraction at the highest point of the moment, as I found it in the fifties, to see how I could move it forward,” he later explained. “I wanted to put color in motion…I was already against that idea of the plane as a projection of visual reality.”[1]
In his classic works from the 1970s, Soto combined monochromatic panels with oscillating metal rods that introduce a dynamic spatial and perceptual tension between the artwork and the viewer. “Soto’s optical paintings keep the question of what is real and what is imaginary in perpetual suspension,” critic Guy Brett remarked. “When he hangs a metal rod in front of a lined screen (his ‘sign’ reduced to its simplest terms) the optical interference of these two elements releases a third—the vibration—which is real to the eyes though it has no material existence. The rod is not exactly dissolved into vibrations, for then it would be absorbed into another medium and disappear altogether. The vibrations take the shape of the solid rod, tracing its movement in pulses, as if they were its shadow. But the situation is so finely balanced it could equally be that the solid rod is the ‘shadow’ of the energy pulses, which ‘really’ constitute the rod and everything else we see as solid stable objects in the world.”[2]
Two series of slender horizontal rods—black on the left, red on the right—descend from the top of the present Caribe, flickering against the striated middle panel and casting long, crisscrossing shadows that extend across and beyond the work. Soto experimented with multi-panel constructions during this time, for example in Black and White Triptych (1973), and here he posits a grid of colors and lines that induces a shimmering moiré effect at its center, animating the space between the vibrating metal rods, the red and black monochromes, and the viewer. “Soto’s achievement has been to give a luminous imaginative force to the idea of continuum,” Brett observed. “Forms are not localizable, it’s not possible to say: there are the forms and this is the space that contains them. Forms and space are continually creating each other, changing into each other.” That sensation of constant flux, betwixt and between the forms and spaces of Caribe, finally transforms its pictorial elements—color, space, line—into pure perceptual experience. “It has always been part of the poetry of Soto’s work to be half in the world and half out of it,” Brett concluded. “The rods oscillate between the abstract world of relations and the world of things. Unpredictable currents from the world of things activate and bring to life the painting’s space.”[3]
Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park

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