Jesús Rafael Soto (Venezuelan 1923-2005)
Jesús Rafael Soto (Venezuelan 1923-2005)

Virtual cobalto sobre el rombo

Jesús Rafael Soto (Venezuelan 1923-2005)
Virtual cobalto sobre el rombo
signed, dated and titled 'Soto, 1977, VIRTUAL COBALTO SOBRE EL ROMBO' (on the verso)
painted wood and metal rods with nylon string
57 x 57 x 11 in. (145 x 145 x 28 cm.)
Executed in 1977.
Galería Theo, Madrid.
Acquired from the above.
Private collection, New York.
Exhibition catalogue, Soto, Palacio de Velázquez del Parque del Retiro, Madrid, 1982, p. 44, no. 90 (illustrated in color).
Madrid, Palacio de Velázquez del Parque del Retiro, Soto, February - March 1982, no. 90.

Lot Essay

Soto belongs to the generation of young Latin American artists that burst upon Paris in the 1950s, channeling geometric abstraction into the radical innovations of Kineticism and Op art. After training at the Escuela de Artes Plásticas in Caracas, Soto followed his classmate and fellow abstractionist Alejandro Otero to Paris in 1950, where he was 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 the perceptual problems first proposed in the work of Piet Mondrian and 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 characteristically combined monochromatic wood panels with oscillating metal rods that introduce a dynamic spatial and perceptual tension between the artwork and the viewer. Here, the superimposed geometric shapes animate the classic modernist grid suggested by the black square, rotated forty-five degrees into a diamond shape. The suspended horizontal wires, vibrating in space, give the optical illusion of the original square, now projected spatially and imaged through the most immaterial of means. The virtualization of color energizes the image from within, generating dimensional tension between the kineticism of the metal rods and the objecthood of the matte monochrome. Virtual cobalto sobre el rombo ultimately stages the dematerialization of color in space: the flickering movement of cobalt-blue wire rods against the backgrounded circle-in-the-square suggests the optical transformation of color in space and time.

"Soto's achievement has been to give a luminous imaginative force to the idea of continuum," critic Guy Brett remarked of Soto's works from this time. "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 perfectly describes the amorphous space betwixt and between Soto's images, the continuum that transforms the elements of painting--color, space, line--into pure perceptual experience. As Brett concludes, "It has always been part of the poetry of Soto's work to be half in the world and half out of it. 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."(2)

Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park.
1) J. R. Soto, quoted in Ariel Jiménez, Conversations with Jesús Soto, Caracas, Fundación Cisneros, 2005, 168, 170.
2) G. Brett, Soto, October-November 1969, New York, Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, 1969, 15-16.

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