Critics’ Picks

Jesús Soto, Sans titre (Étude pour une série) (Untitled [Study for a Series]), 1952–53, paint and paper on wood, 40 1/4 x 40 1/4 x 2 3/8".

New York

Jesús Soto

Grey Art Gallery
100 Washington Square East New York University
January 10–March 31

A focused show featuring forty-seven works from the two-decade period after the Venezuelan artist Jesús Soto moved to Paris, this exhibition tracks Soto’s experiments with abstract painting as a lively, embodied act of perception. Soto relied on ordered matrices of Schönberg's twelve-tone system as a point of departure for early work like Sans titre (Étude pour un série) (Untitled [Study for a Series]), 1952–53, a grid of colorful indentations on wood. Playing with the surface and depth of his paintings during this period led Soto to his singular innovation: augmenting his surfaces using Plexiglas overlays, as in Luz plateada (Silver Light), 1955–56. Here the Plexiglas at once extends the painting into the space of the viewer and destabilizes the act of looking, causing the geometry of both the background and the foreground to dissolve into a dizzying array of colors and lines.

In 1957 Soto abandoned Plexiglas overlays to produce his “Vibraciones” (Vibrations) series, covering his mechanically painted lines with an improvisatory tangle of wires. At the same time Soto began the “Escrituras” (Writings) series, inscribing his painted surfaces with thin bits of metal, wire, and rods. Experimenting with the sculptural possibilities of painting, Soto added putty, wire, and wood to his pictures; or, in the case of the large-scale Mural, 1961, he covered a large black wooden surface with pipes, brooms, and other detritus salvaged from the streets of Caracas. While his Plexiglas and sculptural paintings anticipate innovations in Op art and kinetic art, pieces like El tambor (The Drum), 1963, suggest the possibilities of participatory art. Throughout the twenty years covered here, Soto was in conversation with Duchamp, Yves Klein, and Group Zero, and although he never aligned with a single group or movement, this exhibition argues for his centrality to postwar Paris.