Galería RGR is pleased to present The Instability of the Real, the first solo exhibition in the gallery of the historic kinetic artist Jesús Rafael Soto (Ciudad Bolívar, Venezuela 1923 – Paris, 2005).
This exhibition brought a selection of historical works from 1955 to 1998 commemorating the centenary of his birth and was carried out in collaboration with the Atelier Soto of Paris. It familiarizes the viewer with the concerns and investigations Soto followed through different career stages. The display of this exhibition rememorates how the pieces coexisted in the exhibitions during the sixties and seventies to promote Soto's immersive principle, which placed the viewer in a new aesthetic territory.
The visual investigations initiated by Jesús Rafael Soto in the early fifties and developed over more than five decades focused on integrating three basic principles: movement, time, and the dematerialization of volume. This multidimensional notion, initially based on painting, eventually merged with sculpture and was nourished by the problems related to abstraction and purity of form explored decades ago by cubism, constructivism, and suprematism.
Soto´s experiments are framed in a moment of shared interests with his contemporaries to transgress the static legacies of figuration to establish a new relationship between art and society. In 1955, Soto participated in the exhibition Le Mouvement, presented at the Galerie Denise René (Paris), along with Yaacob Agam, Paul Bury, Alexander Calder, Marcel Duchamp, Robert Jacobsen, Jean Tinguely, and Victor Vasarely. This exhibition brought together the pioneers who explored op art with those who introduced the collective reflection that kineticism meant. It traced the path from a distant and focused perception by the viewer to their active participation as a detonating corporeal agent of what the art historian, Jean Clay, referred to as an awareness of the instability of real.
Jesús Rafael Soto developed a structured language based on the superimposition of elements to compose his works. He gradually integrated processes of instability, vibration, and dematerialization of shapes and volumes, until he transferred the two-dimensional surface to three-dimensional space, making it habitable. This new perceptual experience of the artistic object incorporates time as an essential factor, demanding a return to the here and now and an awareness of the vortex with which we inhabit and perceive our environment.
After the investigations of the second half of the fifties, Soto entered a period described as "baroque," in which he became more interested in the material aspect of his work. He incorporated objects whose volume was optically fragmented when interacting with backgrounds of striated or linear designs, giving the illusion of transforming matter into energy. These objects -rods, twisted wires, thick layers of oil paint, and old logs- refer to Informalism in their integration of graphics, coarse textures, and materials foreign to the picture plane. However, in Soto's optical investigations, the elements themselves are irrelevant; what is essential is the virtual product generated by the interaction between them, which leads to an apparent disintegration of its features, producing in those who look at them the sensation of being in front of indefinite and elusive volumes.
At the end of the fifties, Soto experimented with other materials to draw in space; this is how the first "Escrituras" appear, as panels in which he suspends fine and curved threads of wire in front of a fluted background. In these works, the awareness of our movement is further accentuated when seeing these suspended drawings, which tend to dematerialize before our eyes. Additionally, his interest in disassociating drawing from the traditional function of representation of everyday reality and showing the spatial ambiguity through the superimpositions with greater emphasis is present here. These abstract compositions of suspended forms were built along the way, adding and subtracting elements.
In his research to integrate movement to the pictorial surface, Soto elaborated throughout his career a series of explorations based on a limited selection of geometric elements -the line and the square- as well as colors -the three primary ones, the three secondary, white, black and ultraviolet– capturing them on surfaces whose superimposition generates a new visual situation based on optical vibrations from the spectator's wandering in front of or around the work.
In a 1967 article titled "The Painting Is Finished," historian Jean Clay states:
“Kineticism is not “what moves,” but the awareness of the instability of the real. […] The originality of the new art comes from the fact that the support itself becomes unstable. The phenomenon of metamorphosis now develops within the very heart of the constituent matter of the work.”
In this 1981 piece, which is part of the series called ambivalences, Soto demonstrates the stability of the elements located on a white background in the lower part of the work versus the instability generated from the relationship of similar elements situated on a white linear background.
Soto shared with the artistic tendencies of his time -with kineticism and, later, with minimalism- the presupposition of a corporeal spectator who participates in the work with all his senses. Hence his interest in alluding to the viewer's awareness regarding his relationship with the art object, his situation in space, and how his movement determines the effects of the work.
It is important to remember that the starting point of Soto's research is painting. The picture plane, and the energy of the optical phenomena that take place within it, is what he seeks to extend into space to form immersive paintings/sculptures such as penetrables, in which Soto finds a way to make physical the immaterial effects that he previously he had achieved in his works.
The first penetrable was presented in 1967 in his exhibition at the Galerie Denise René; Throughout his life, Soto made around thirty penetrables that vary in scale and color. The penetrable that is part of this exhibition was exhibited for the first time at the retrospective held by the Serralves Foundation in Portugal in 1993 and was restored by the Atelier Soto to be displayed at Galería RGR in commemoration of the centenary of his birth.
In the words of Soto, quoted in a text by Marcel Joray, “The penetrable is the embodiment of the idea that has fed my thought about the state of a total plenitude of the universe, [which is] occupied by relationships. It is the revelation of sensitive space, eternally filled with the purest structural values, such as energy, time, and movement. The experience of the spectator who participates in entering a penetrable, and therefore in a different space-time, will be more evident for him [her] the day when he can function freely in a medium in which gravity does not exist.
Vibration in its purest state and the transformation of matter are essential concerns for Soto, such as movement. By suspending rods in front of fluted backgrounds painted on formaica and wood panels, he generated a set of elements that acquired aerial qualities in relation to the background and through the viewer’s movement. These compositions reveal his idea of space.
In an interview with the curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, Soto says in this regard: “My concern is the desire to show that space is more important than elements or objects; contrary to what we have always believed, space is not what is filled by objects, but objects are filled by space. Space flows: nothing limits it. I am interested in showing people who are interested in space as a quality, as a universal density, that he is in charge, the one who defines and imposes his conditions.”
In "Cuadrado virtual violeta,” he introduces the use of ultraviolet color, or, in Soto's words, the notion of ultraviolet that was considered a sublime color, which makes evident his interest in the immaterial, which will henceforth be a vital issue for understand his constant search to make visible what only exists through formal relationships and optical illusions.
"Torre vibrante blanco y negro" is a transitional piece exploring the separation of the planes to generate optical vibrations, the suspended volumes, and what will be the immersive or penetrable sculptures. For this year, Soto had already done his first penetrable work; however, this vibrant tower continues with the investigations that preceded the enveloping works. In this piece, by increasing the suspended rods' dimension and approaching the observer's scale, he moves towards the idea of enveloping the viewer and thus creating a visual and physical experience that has to do with the occurrence of vibration in the time.
La Boîte is multiple work of art that originated from "La cajita Villanueva,” one of Soto's most emblematic pieces during the fifties, in which he used for the first time the pattern of lines that characterizes his work after this date. In a conversation with the Venezuelan curator Ariel Jimenez, Soto would comment that in this work, “there is a new aspect, apart from the vibration, and that is that an optical ambiguity was produced that made it difficult to determine where the squares were. Suddenly it seemed to you that the black square was in the background, and other times it seemed to you that it was in the foreground.”
The name of the work refers to the Venezuelan architect Carlos Raúl Villanueva (1900, Croydon, Surrey, Eng.—1975, Caracas, Venezuela), with whom he maintained a great friendship and with whom he collaborated for several decades. In 1953, Villanueva invited Soto to propose a project for the Ciudad Universitaria of Caracas, which ultimately was not carried out but was crucial for developing his ideas. Villanueva is the one who designed the Jesús Soto Museum of Modern Art in 1973 in Ciudad Bolívar -the artist's hometown-and which has a collection of modern art that Soto himself set out to gather through exchanges with artists and galleries.
In 1967, the Denise René Gallery published the Sotomagie box, “biography in a suitcase,” conceived to produce a limited edition of one hundred copies as a retrospective set of Soto's artistic itinerary. It brings together eleven multiple pieces based on works carried out between 1951 and 1965, which he considers essential contributions to developing his research on space and movement.
Soto shared with artists such as Vasarely, Agam, Pol Bury, and Jean Arp the interest in the democratization of artistic expression through the idea of doing multipliable works, understanding them as works that would have the same value as a unique work but at a lower cost that would allow more people to acquire them, thus proposing new forms of relationship with the art object. These are works that do not require the direct intervention of the artist, something that goes hand in hand with the use of technical means for their realization. Using screen printing and plexiglass, Soto manages to build removable and foldable pieces to be transported in a box.