Friday, March 30, 2012


The thrill of uncommon objects is best revealed in the intimacy of interaction- just as looking at pictures of a Dior gown is mundane compared to the experience of wearing one, so too Jesus Soto’s kinetic and Op Art requires interaction between the art and the viewer to impart their full achievement and meaning. New York University’s Grey Art Gallery is currently showing a collection of Soto’s work spanning the 20 years following his 1950 move to Paris from his native Venezuela. The spacious gallery gave curator Estrillita B. Brodsky room to arrange Soto’s work in five chronological sections: geometric abstraction (1949-1951), serial composition (1952-1954), overlays (1954-1956), immaterial (1957-1960) and language/perception (1960-1968). Beginning with a 1949 cubist inspired landscape, Sin titulo (Paisaje), we quickly follow Soto’s development as he sheds figurative art in favor of fully abstracted forms. Thereafter Soto experiments with repetition and variation of minimalized shapes- as in Mur blanc (1953), which is both a single work and twenty-four independent paintings- to achieve dynamism. Overall Brodsky successfully carved a path through Soto’s lesser known early works leading up to his post-1954 overlays that explore the moire effect, audience participation, stability and perception.  By mounting the foreground on plexiglas several inches above the background, overlays look different depending where the viewer stands. The pieces on the lower level use a culmination of Soto’s different techniques up to the mid 1960’s. For example, Sin titulo (Vibracion metalica) (1961) is black tangled wire, which Soto began using in his earlier assemblages of found objects, mounted on  a Klein blue background with a black square and cream colored rectangle with striated black vertical lines that echo the repetitious patterns and color from earlier work .

Despite the range of Soto’s work displayed, there are two significant omissions in this show that relate to an oversimplified approach to Soto’s oeuvre. First, the pieces after 1956  are collectively limited to black, white, cream, blues and red colors; giving the false impression that Soto severely restricted his pallet after Sans titre (Structure cinetique a elements geometriques) (1955-1956). Secondly, a much more significant omission is the regrettable lack of Soto’s chef d'oeuvre Penetrables sculptures. This show does create a foundational understanding of Soto’s work from the lesser known breadth of his earlier career. Yet, without the experience of walking through the thin, dangling, plastic tubes of one of Soto’s interactive Penetrables, it is ultimately all build up and no denouement.  


  1. I think your take on the Soto show is spot on and I agree that the lack of some of his more well-known works was disappointing. Your breakdown of the curator's methodology and your summary of his development is informative and insightful. The piece is very well written: clear and concise, though I felt the introduction was unnecessary; I think everyone would agree that all art is more powerful in person than through reproductions. Your points about the pyramids etc. promotes visiting galleries in general, and is less specific to the show at hand. I understand the point you make: that his work is interactive, but you don't explain how. Maybe you could describe one of the pieces that require participation in detail (you mention that Metal Vibration is a culmination of Soto's work, but do not give any specifics as to what it might be like to experience it.) I also suggest briefly defining "penetrables" since readers unfamiliar with his career might not know what this refers to. Overall, very well done.

  2. Overall, this discussion is thoughtful, informed, and cohesive. I think you do nicely here. My criticisms, because of this, will be somewhat picky.

    I agree with Loney’s comment to a certain extent. Though I like the tone of the introduction, and felt immediately engaged by it, its message does somewhat go without saying. That said, your main point of the importance of participation is nice, and ties directly with Agnes Berecz’s talk “There really is no substitute for participation” at the corresponding “Mediatic Networks in Postwar Paris” symposium. Maybe this mention is outside the scope of your review, but grounding Soto’s work in this historical context, even in the space of a sentence or two, could be valuable.

    I also think that your conclusion drops off a bit, especially considering your review’s strong opening and body. Maybe there’s a way to more thoroughly flesh out your thoughts—as Loney says, just referring to penetrables might be off-putting for readers who aren’t familiar with the artist’s work.

  3. I think that this is a wonderful review. I am interested in the participation aspect of Soto's work, and in the concept of opticality being political in some ways (anti-bourgeois). I think that in the beginning of your review you talked a lot about the experience of seeing works in person. I agree that this is really important and I think particularly important when looking at this avant-garde stuff. I would be interested to hear more about the curation and the experience of seeing, what it does in person...