Jesús-Rafael Soto1923-2005, Venezuela
Jesús-Rafael Soto

“… in order to achieve abstraction, I thought it was important to find a graphic system that would allow me to codify a reality rather than represent it.”


One of the most important kinetic artists of the 20th century, Jesús Rafael Soto began his artistic career at a very young age, painting posters for movie theaters in his home town of Ciudad Bolívar. In 1942, he received a scholarship to study art and art history at the Escuela de Artes Plásticas in Caracas, where he met fellow students Carlos Cruz-Diez, Mercedes Pardo, Omar Carreño, and Alejandro Otero. During these studies, he began making paintings inflected with Cubism. “For me, Cubism was an exercise in construction, in the ordering a planes, a tool that helped me to translate the tropical light,” he noted. In Caracas, he regularly attended meetings and discussions at the Taller Libre de Art (Open Air Studio), an institution sponsored by the Ministry of Education, in which intellectuals, critics, and artists debated current avant-garde ideas from Europe and Latin America; his first solo exhibition was held at the Taller in 1949. In 1947, Soto was invited to direct the Escuela de Bellas Artes de Maracaibo, where he remained until 1950. That year, he received a grant to travel to France; he settled in Paris, where he found a dynamic community of artists associated with the Salon des Realités Nouvelles and the Galerie Denise René, including Yaacov Agam, Jean Tinguely, Victor Vasarely. He also rejoined many of his friends from school, including Otero and Pardo.


Surrounded by these artists, Soto began to consider ways to move his work from two-dimensions to three, how to engage the viewer in the experience of the work, and how to incorporate the perception of movement into his art. In 1952, he collaborated with Otero, Alexander Calder, Fernand Léger, Antoine Pevsner, Henri Laurens, Jean (Hans) Arp, and others in the Proyecto de Integración de las Artes at the Universidad Central de Venezuela, headed by architect Carlos Raúl Villanueva. The project integrated the art of avant-garde modernists with the university architecture, and it is a signature project of mid-century modernism in Latin America.


Influenced by serialism in modern music, Soto began a series of “serial works” in 1952. In an interview conducted by Hans Ulrich Obrist in 2006, Soto recalled the importance of music to his early production: “In those years, I was trying to find ways to achieve true abstraction. To begin with, what I had to do was, of course, to completely dissociate drawing from its traditional function of representing everyday reality. So I thought of music, where the notes don’t represent anything, but in fact constitute a system of unlimited relationships invented by man. In the same way, in order to achieve abstraction, I thought it was important to find a graphic system that would allow me to codify a reality rather than represent it.” His interest in music was also as a musician; for more than a decade Soto earned his living by playing guitar at bars.


Soto was also influenced by the work of artists Piet Mondrian and Kazimir Malevich, especially in their treatment of geometry and abstraction. Wassily Kandinsky’s text Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1912) was an important resource for the young artist, as he began making works which suggested movement and instability. In 1947, when László Moholy-Nagy’s book Vision in Motion was published, Soto found another resource to support his ideas about movement and the spectator. By the 1960s, he was immersed in projects in which he used almost no color but, instead, explored the vibrations created by line and its dematerialization (through the inclusion of hanging elements). He also began exploring the idea of haptic art: making works to be touched by the viewer. The most widely known example of this phase of his work are the Penetrables, interactive metal and plastic structures through which the viewer moves; Soto created his first Penetrable in 1967. In an interview of 1970, Soto said, “With penetrables, my most recent creations, this participation becomes tactile, even often auditory. Man interacts with his surroundings. Matter, time and space form a true trinity, and movement is the force which demonstrates the trinity.”



Upcoming: Jesús Rafael Soto: Houston Penetrable, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

2013: Soto dans le collection du Museé national d’art moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris

2010: Soto: Les harmonies combinatoires, Galerie Denise René, Paris

2006: Virtualidad Vibrante, Centro de Arte La Estancia, Caracas

2005-2006: Visión en Movimiento, Fundación PROA, Buenos Aires and Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo, Mexico City

2004: Jesús Rafael Soto, Sicardi Gallery, Houston

2003: Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Caracas, Venezuela

2001: Museo de Arte Moderno de Bogotá, Colombia

2000: Museo de Arte Contemporáneo (MARCO), Monterrey, Mexico

1998: Museu de Arte Moderna da Bahia, Salvador, Brazil

Museo Nacional de Artes Visuales, Montevideo

Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Buenos Aires

1992: Museo de Bellas Artes, Caracas

Museo de Arte Moderno – Fundación Jesús Soto, Ciudad Bolívar, Venezuela

1983: Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Caracas

1974: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

1972: Museo de Arte Moderno, Bogotá

1971: Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago

Akron Art Center, Akron

Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago

1964: Museo de Bellas Artes, Caracas

1956: Galerie Denise René, Paris

1949: Taller Libre de Arte, Caracas

Jesús Rafael Soto’s work has been included in numerous group exhibitions, including, most recently: Cosmopolitan Routes: Houston Collects Latin American Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (2010); Constructive Spirit: Abstract Art in South and North America, 1920-50s, Newark Museum, New Jersey (2010); North Looks South: Building the Latin American Art Collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (2009); Lo(s) Cinetico(s), Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid (2007); The Geometry of Hope: Latin American Abstract Art from the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Collection, Blanton Museum of Art, Austin (2007); and Inverted Utopias: Avant-Garde Art in Latin America, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (2004), among many others.



Tate Gallery, London, England

The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC

Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Josef Albers Museum, Quadrat, Bottrop, Germany

Museum Nacional de Bellas Artes, Buenos Aires

National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels

Museu de Arte Contemporânea da Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil

Musée d'Art Contemporain de Montréal, Canada

National Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid

Fundación ARCO, Madrid

Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Israel

Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Roma, Italy

Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo

Museo Rufino Tamayo, Mexico City

Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo, The Netherlands

Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden

Kunstmuseum, Bern, Switzerland

Museo de Bellas Artes, Caracas


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