Jesus Rafael Soto
(Ciudad Bolívar, Edo. Guayana, Venezuela 1923- Paris, France 2005)
Jesús Rafael Soto devoted his life work to the fields of the optical, mainly interested in the phenomenon of the viewer’s perception of art. He gained a reputation as one of the most important Latin American artists of the 20th century. He was interested in the vibration and movement of the work of art in relation to the virtual movement of the visual elements. He mainly thought about the viewer as a live mechanism that not only moves around the work, but can also penetrate and modify the work of art. Soto’s sculptures and architectural interventions usually play with the juxtaposition of the notion of the solid and the void, blurring the distinction between reality and illusion, movement and stillness. Soto is mostly known for his Penetrables, a series of interactive sculptures, which consist of pending thin, dangling tubes or strings that the viewers can walk through. For Soto, the work of art is inseparable to the experience, whether through the mobility of the piece itself, through optical movement, or through the intervention of the spectator.
Jesús Rafael Soto was a painter and sculptor aligned with the Kinetic and optical art movement. At a very young age he began studying guitar and painting posters for the movie theaters in his hometown Ciudad Bolívar. He received a scholarship to study at the School of Fine Arts in Caracas, in 1942, with other artists that would continue a geometric abstraction path such as Cruz-Diez, Narciso Debourg, Mercedes Pardo and Alejandro Otero, trained in the geometric tradition. He held his first solo exhibition in 1949 in the Taller Libre de Artes in Caracas. Upon graduation, he moved to Maracaibo where he was appointed as the Director of the School of Fine Arts of the city. In 1950 he moved to Paris, showing his work and earning his living by playing the guitar and singing. His work was included in the 1955 “Mouvement” exhibition at Galerie Denise René, along with artists Calder, Duchamp, Jacobsen, Tinguely, and Vasarely amongst others. In 1956 Soto held his first solo exhibition at the same gallery, and began a strong exhibiting career. Major exhibitions of Soto’s work took place at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago in 1971, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, in New York, in 1974, the Musée national d’art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris in1979 the Palacio de Velázquez in Madrid in 1982, and the Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume in 1997, to name a few. He has executed numerous works of architectural integration such as for the UNESCO Building in Paris, in 1969, for the Paseo Ciencias in Maracaibo city, in 1973, for the Sandoz laboratories in Basel in 1972 and the Teatro Teresa Carreño in Caracas in 1983, among others. Soto received the National Painting Award from Venezuela in 1960 and the National Artist Prize in 1984. Despite his interest in art, he never abandoned his guitar and became a skilled singer. In 1973, Soto founded a museum of modern art in his hometown Ciudad Bolivar that carries his name. His work is represented in the most important public and private collections worldwide. Died in Paris in 2005.