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.