Soto, Jesús Rafael (1923–2005)

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Soto, Jesús Rafael (1923–2005)

Jesús Rafael Soto (b. 5 June 1923; d. 14 January 2005), Venezuelan artist. Born in Ciudad Bolívar to a peasant family living on the edge of the Orinoco River, Soto spent his youth in the countryside with Indian companions. He began his career by painting posters for the local movie house. At age nineteen he won a scholarship to study at the Cristóbal Rojas School of Fine and Applied Arts in Caracas, where he met Alejandro Otero and Carlos Cruz Diez. He became interested in synthetic and geometric forms in the manner of Cézanne and the cubists. In 1947 he was named director of the School of Fine Arts in Maracaibo and held his first exhibition two years later at the Taller Libre de Arte in Caracas. In 1950 he traveled to Paris, where he became friendly with Vasarely, Duchamp, and Calder and exhibited at the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles in 1951 and 1954. In 1955 his relief Spiral (composed of a sheet of plexiglass separated from the background, which by repeating the same thumblike fingerprint pattern produced visual movement) was included in the exhibition The Movement, which officially launched the kinetic art movement. In 1958 he launched his Vibration series (formed by a black and white thin-striped surface in which twisted wires or squares were hung in front, producing a visual vibration whenever the viewer moved in front of them). That same year he created two kinetic murals for the Venezuelan Pavilion at the Brussels International Exposition.

In 1963 Soto's work in the São Paulo Bienal was awarded the Grand Wolf Prize. The following year he won the David Bright Prize at the Venice Biennale and the second place at the American Bienal in Córdoba, Argentina. In 1965 he received the first prize at the first Salón Pan-Americano of Painting in Cali, Colombia. He had major retrospectives at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (1968), and at the Museum of Modern Art of Paris, where he presented his Penetrable (1969), an environment constructed out of plastic wires in which the viewer could play.

In 1969 the Venezuelan government created the Jesús Soto Foundation. Four years later the Museum of Modern Art Jesús Soto opened in Ciudad Bolívar filled with Soto's own private collection, which he had donated to his native city. Soto also completed many public commissions, including kinetic murals for UNESCO in Paris (1970), and the Esfera Virtual for the Hilton Hotel in Caracas and the Olympic Sculpture Park in Seoul, South Korea (1988). In 1990 he became the fifth person ever to receive the UNESCO Picasso Medal, given to individuals whose work symbolizes improved relationships between countries. In 1995 he completed one of his most impressive installations, "Welcoming Flag," on the facade of the Phoenix Tower in Osaka, Japan. In 1996 he represented Venezuela at the twenty-third biennial of contemporary art in São Paulo, Brazil. In 2004 he took part in the "Inverted Utopias: Avant-Garde Art in Latin America" exhibition at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts. He died in Paris on January 14, 2005. Ten days later the first Brazilian retrospective of his work opened at the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil in Rio de Janeiro.

See alsoArt: The Twentieth Century .


Basilio, Miriam, et al., eds. Latin American & Caribbean Art: MoMA at El Museo. New York: El Museo del Barrio and the Museum of Modern Art, Distributed by D.A.P/Distributed Art Publishers, 2004.

Jiménez, Ariel. Conversaciones con Jesús Soto. Caracas: Fundación Cisneros, 2005.

Museo De Arte Contemporáneo De Caracas, Soto: Cuarenta años de creación (1983).

Rodríguez, Bélgica. La pintura abstracta en Venezuela, 1945–1965 (1980).

Soto, Jesús Rafael. Soto: A Retrospective Exhibition: The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 1974.

                            BÉlgica RodrÍguez