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Jesus Rafael Soto was a sculptor and installation artist renowned for his large-scale linear and kinetic constructions. He incorporated optical movement in his art with synthetic materials such as nylon, Perspex, steel, and industrial paint. Today, Soto is considered the defining figure of Kinetic and Venezuelan Op art.
Soto was born in 1923 in the Ciudad Bolívar, Venezuela. At nineteen years old he received a scholarship to attend the Escuela de Artes Plásticas y Artes Aplicadas in Caracas, Venezuela. There, from 1942 to 1947, he studied art and art history. The compositions of simple and geometric shapes of Russian Constructivists such as Kazimir Malevich influenced Soto’s early work. Additionally, Piet Mondrian’s approach to geometric abstraction led Soto to focus on geometric and organic forms by using a Cubist approach. In 1947, he accepted a position as director for the Escuela de Bellas Artes in Maracaibo, Venezuela. By 1950, he decided to move to Paris to further explore his interest in avant-garde modernism ideas.
In Paris, he joined the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles, a group of abstract artists, and began exploring ways to incorporate perceived movement into art. His work transitioned from the two-dimensional realm to the three-dimensional. In 1955, Soto exhibited his work at the Galerie Denise René in the show Le Mouvement (The Movement). For the exhibition, Soto created superimposed drawings on Plexiglas, his first dynamic work.
By 1957, Soto’s work focused more on gestural abstraction. However, Soto returned to using a geometric art language in 1965. Soto’s art practice explored pure abstraction, color theory, and the dynamic relationship between foreground and background. He illustrated color relationships and their stimulated optical effects by interrupting black with yellows and whites. Furthermore, his art used minimal color and focused on the vibrations created by the dematerialization of a line.
Throughout his career, Soto experimented with the perception of movement, leading to large-scale works that invited the viewers’ interaction. He achieved this by including hanging elements in projects, converting his work into art meant to be touched. Eventually, this led to the development of Soto’s world-renowned Penetrables, interactive metal, and plastic structures, creating the first one in 1967. Soto’s large-scale public art installations played on the idea of something being simultaneously solid and part of the void. His use of nylon thread or plastic strings created interactive environments that intentionally blurred the distinction between illusion and reality.
Today, Soto’s work is part of the collections of major art institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation, the Museum of Latin American Art, and Tate Britain, and the Art Gallery of New South Wales. In 1973, the Jesús Soto Museum of Modern Art opened in Ciudad Bolívar, Venezuela.
Though the peak of Soto’s career occurred from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, he remained active in the twenty-first century. Leaving behind a legacy of kinetic installations, Soto passed away in 2005 in Paris, France.
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