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Jesús Soto: Paris and Beyond, 1950-1970 at New York University's Grey Art Gallery
Jesús Soto, El tambor (The Drum), 1963. Wood, paint, nylon, and metal, 28 x 28 x 5 7/8 in. (71 x 71 x 15 cm) Private collection © 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. Photo: Renato Donzelli.

NEW YORK, N.Y.- The first large-scale exhibition dedicated to Jesús Soto to be held at a New York museum in more than 35 years, Soto: Paris and Beyond, 1950–1970 will be on view at New York University’s Grey Art Gallery from January 10 through March 31, 2012. Curated by Estrellita B. Brodsky and comprising a focused selection of approximately 50 works, the exhibition highlights this major Venezuelan artist’s early career, after he moved from Caracas to Paris in 1950. Soto: Paris and Beyond offers a rare opportunity to trace Soto’s visionary trajectory as well as his reciprocal influence and exchange with other members of the avant-garde. The artist’s groundbreaking achievements in the fields of perception and interactive art established his reputation as both a primary proponent of kinetic art internationally and one of the most influential Latin American artists of the 20th century.

Drawing inspiration from optics, music theory, and phenomenology, Jesús Soto (1923–2005) invented a radically new relationship between the artwork and the viewer. The earliest examples in Soto: Paris and Beyond—oil paintings from the early 1950s, such as Rotation (1952)—convey a sense of dynamism through the repetition of geometric forms that activate the picture's surface. Soto soon extended these visual experiments into real space, painting vibrantly colored abstract motifs on layers of Plexiglas, which he then superimposed to create three-dimensional objects. As spectators move around them, the painted forms appear to shift in relation to one another, creating a kinetic effect. Such implied movement becomes actual in Soto’s Escrituras (Writings) and Vibraciones (Vibrations) series from the 1960s, which incorporate pendant elements—such as wires—that fluctuate in space. Petite écriture noire (Small Black Writing, 1968), for example, features curved and angular wires suspended in front of a dense background of vertical lines. By 1970, Soto’s experiments with movement and interaction had culminated in his Penetrables, environments created through a network of suspended nylon threads or metal strips into which viewers enter.

Soto: Paris and Beyond is curated by Estrellita B. Brodsky, who received her doctorate at NYU's Institute of Fine Arts and wrote her dissertation on Soto and Julio Le Parc, another postwar Latin American artist living in Paris. "We hope this exhibition contributes to increased critical appreciation for Soto, who is such a central figure of Latin American art. Now is the right time to reevaluate major Latin American artists within a broader, international context," notes Brodsky. "NYU has long demonstrated groundbreaking scholarship and a deep commitment to the arts of Latin America, so it is especially appropriate that the Grey Art Gallery presents this exhibition of Soto's spectacular early works. Indeed, this show builds on the Grey's presentation of the landmark survey of South American abstraction, The Geometry of Hope, in 2008," notes Lynn Gumpert, director of the Grey Art Gallery.

Soto: Paris and Beyond begins in 1950, when Soto moved to France, and culminates with the artist’s first major retrospective at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 1969. Soto was one of many artists from Latin America who migrated to Paris after World War II, seeking greater artistic opportunities. He presented his artwork alongside that of Marcel Duchamp and Victor Vasarely in shows such as the seminal Le Mouvement exhibition at the Galerie Denise René in 1955, and later formed reciprocal relationships with members of Paris’s international avant-garde, including Yves Klein, Jean Tinguely, and members of the group Zero. They—along with Latin American artists such as Carlos Cruz-Diez and those in the influential Madí group—shared Soto’s interest in incorporating implied or actual movement into their works to create interactive viewing experiences. Soto and Klein developed a particularly fruitful artistic exchange, as evidenced in several of Soto’s works that incorporate his French colleague’s signature color “International Klein Blue” (IKB). For example, Soto’s Leńo azul y negro (Blue and Black Log, 1960) features a jagged wooden assemblage attached to a brightly IKB-painted Masonite panel. Soto created mixed-media constructions as wall pieces or as free-standing sculptures that emphasize the textures of cloth, metal, and wood. While works from this time diverge from the pristine geometry of Soto’s earlier output, they are united by his commitment to experimenting with visual instability.

Soto: Paris and Beyond is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with essays by Estrellita B. Brodsky and art historian Sarah K. Rich. Brodsky’s essay offers a comprehensive account of Soto’s techniques, materials, and theoretical approach, while situating him in the context of contemporary Paris. Rich contributes a discussion of the spectator’s dynamic relationship with Soto’s art, examining how his works alter the viewer’s perceptions. In the wake of many recent group exhibitions that have surveyed Latin American abstraction, this solo presentation of a key period in Soto’s career clearly illuminates his central role in Venezuelan art and investigates the dynamic exchange of ideas between Soto and preeminent members of European and American avant-garde circles.

The accompanying catalogue is conceived as an art self-help book that addresses the general public as well as scholars. Co-published by Dartmouth College and the University of Chicago Press, the volume includes an introduction by Jacquelynn Baas and essays by Baas, Fluxus artist Ken Friedman, and scholars Hannah Higgins and Jacob Proctor. Fluxus and the Essential Questions of Life will also travel to the University of Michigan Museum of Art in Ann Arbor, from February 25 to May 20, 2012.

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January 10, 2012

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