Jesús Rafael Soto - Latin America New York Thursday, November 21, 2013 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Atelier Soto, Paris
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    São Paulo, Galeria Raquel Arnaud, Em Movimento, 16 August- 19 October, 2013

  • Catalogue Essay

    I am interested in the way we live. We live like a fish in water because all our circumstances and movements are conditioned by a very fluid medium, perhaps initiated by way of the Big Bang. I don’t know. It is this medium that initiates the presence of constructive elements.
    Jesús Rafael Soto, 2001

    A pioneer of Kinetic Art and Op Art, Venezuelan artist Jesús Rafael Soto has produced since the 1950s a body of work that is remarkable for its ability to consistently examine complex philosophical and scientific questions pertaining to the nature of the universe. At the same time, Soto’s works have powerfully expanded art’s possibilities by redefining art’s relationship to viewers. Refusing a traditional model of passive contemplation, Soto’s reliefs and sculptures require the active participation of the viewer, who must, in the case of his reliefs, circulate before the work in a lateral back and forth, or, in the case of his later interactive sculptures, the Penetrables, actually penetrate the work itself to touch and even play with it.

    Soto began his career in Venezuela, where he obtained a scholarship to study at the Escuela de Artes Plásticas of Caracas. He fraternized with some of Venezuela’s most important postwar artists—Mercedes Pardo, Carlos Cruz Diez, and Alejandro Otero, to name a few—and gained a thorough understanding of Impressionism and Cubism, movements that the artist always regarded as fundamental to his artistic practice. “For me,” the artist confessed, “Cubism was an exercise in construction, in the ordering of planes, a tool that helped me to translate the tropical light.”

    And indeed, it was Soto’s lifelong interest in this tropical light—an interest that is characteristic of many great Venezuelan modern artists, such as Armando Reverón and Carlos Cruz-Diez—that fully manifests itself in Oro y Plata. The shimmering surface of this relief’s gold and silver backdrop creates a subtle play with light that is evocative of Venezuela’s tropical vistas. Soto’s embrace of gold and silver functions as a reference to the legendary natural wealth of Latin America. The imposing verticality of two large rectangles separated by a central line might recall the zip paintings of Barnett Newman. But as sleek and modern as they look, these two metallic planes nevertheless remain tied to a Latin American context. A perfect blend of the pre-modern and modern, they double as Soto’s subtle references to illusions of the past, as for example, the Spanish conquistadores’ quest for the mythical city of El Dorado.

    Yet as much as Oro y Plata is tied to a Latin American vision, it is also the result of Soto’s rapid integration in the avant-garde art circles of Paris. After his successful career debut in Venezuela, where he directed the Escuela de Bellas Artes in Maracaibo, Soto traveled to Paris on a grant and began frequenting the highly experimental Salon des Realités Nouvelles and Galerie Denise René. He exchanged ideas with well-known European artists like Fernand Léger, Jean Arp, Jean Tinguely, Victor Vasarely, and also befriended important Latin American artists, who like him, would become central players in the development of kinetic and interactive art in Paris. It is at this point that Soto began experimenting with optics and movement.

    As can be seen in Oro y Plata, Soto seeks to engage the viewer, not as a disembodied eye looking at the work from a fixed position, but as a physical subject moving about the space in which the work is placed. In this work, three rods hang before an incandescent background that makes the visual apprehension of these rods an interactive experience. The background’s lower left section is striated by thin lines that results in an optical flickering or moiré effect activated whenever the viewer changes position. As a result, the halves of the rods in front of this optically vibrant ground almost vanish or become “dematerialized,” as Soto puts it. The purpose of such atomization, Soto explains, is “the transformation of elements into pure vibration, the material into energy.” Soto, who had always been interested in mathematics and physics, sought to explore through his artistic experiments with optics the forces and elements at work in the universe. For Soto, this relief and other works like it are a means of transcending matter by turning it into “energy,” the very concept that had redefined science’s understanding of the laws of the universe through the Einsteinian revolution, which Soto considered to be “without a doubt the most significant event in the transformation of thought.”

    At the same time, Soto is eager to involve the viewer as a participant. Familiar with Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s theories and with László Moholy-Nagy’s Vision in Motion, Soto stages in Oro y Plata, for instance, a truly phenomenological encounter for his viewers. As previously noted, the work’s appearance seems to change as a result of an optical illusion occurring in the internal eye-mind circuit of the viewer. But the work itself also changes physically in a real and absolute way as a result of the viewer’s movement. The three hanging rods are mobiles (Alexander Calder’s work was, of course, well known to Soto) that move at the slightest breeze or vibration caused by the viewer. It is this relationship between the viewer and the work of art that makes Oro y Plata a powerful example of Soto’s oeuvre at the height of his artistic practice.

  • Artist Biography

    Jesús Rafael Soto

    Venezuelan • 1923 - 2005

    Jesús Rafael Soto was born in Ciudad Bolívar and studied at the School of Visual and Applied Arts in Caracas. During this period he became acquainted with Los Disidentes, a group of artists that included Alejandro Otero and Carlos Cruz-Diez. In addition to his fellow compatriots, Soto’'s work was influenced by Kazimir Malevich and Piet Mondrian.

    The main artistic tenets evinced in Soto's works are pure abstraction, vibrations, progressions and geometric rigor. They can be seen through the use of lines and superimposed squares in his sculptures, made with paint and a series of industrial and synthetic materials. He spent much time in Europe, becoming a key member of the Group Zero movement, which included such artists as Lucio Fontana, Gunther Uecker and Yves Klein. As a result, Soto's work also incorporates modernist concepts such as light, time, movement, color manipulation and space. All of these facets place him as an important figure within the Kinetic and Op Art movements.

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Oro y Plata

oil on wood, nylon and metal
57 1/2 x 42 1/8 x 7 1/8 in. (146 x 107 x 18 cm.)
Signed, titled and dated "'Oro y Plata' Soto 1969" on the reverse. This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by Atelier Soto.

$500,000 - 700,000 

Contact Specialist
Laura González
Head of Latin America Sale
+ 1 212 940 1216

Latin America

New York 21 November 2013 4pm