New York

Jesus Raphael Soto

Guggenheim Musem, Denise René Gallery

A more dramatic exposition of the viewer’s participatory role can be seen in JESUS Raphael Soto’s reliefs and environments. Here the movement of the viewer is essential for the activation of the optical vibrations of the works. For the changes in relationship are based on the sensory effects of moire patterns which depend upon the viewer for their existence. The viewer is thus no longer just a spectator but an actual performer necessary for the completion of the work. Looking at Soto’s retrospective one can trace his increasing involvement of the viewer in his works, leading to a physical as well as perceptual immersion in the pieces. In the early ’50s, Soto explored various possibilities for optical movement within the repetition of a series. Increases in size or number, systematic rotations of line and alterations in color provide visual equivalents for progression. Soon Soto moved to experiments with the effects of displacement created by the transparent overlaying of one series on another in a slightly out of synch relationship. These reliefs mark his transition to the use of the moire principle and his growing inclusion of the viewer. The shifting patterns of alignment are contingent on the viewer’s physical movement and the changing of viewpoint rather than on any actual variation within the work.

As Soto’s work develops, the techniques become more sophisticated but the principle remains the same. His metal squares wobble from side to side and up and down against their black-and-white pinstriped backgrounds as one moves in front of them. The curving wire writing stationed in front of narrow vertical lines flickers in a neonlike flow of reflected light as one passes by. In some of the works kinetic elements are added. A succession of painted rods hangs horizontally from nylon cords in front of a striated surface: Yet it is the viewer’s motion which causes the rods to twist and gaps to open between the painting’s lines as the two elements intersect at varying angles. Other recent work is more directly environmental, forcing the viewer to walk around it instead of just confronting it. The alternating rows of colored rods create an accelerating carrousel of optical movements as one meanders by Big Pink Wall. More totally enveloping is the Guggenheim Penetrable, a 36-foot-high three-dimensional curtain of nylon tubing through which the spectator is invited to wander. One orchestrates the work both perceptually, through one’s shifting viewpoint, and kinetically, as the tubes physically vibrate against the passage of one’s body. And yet emerging from this experience, one has the feeling, so what? The question that arises with Soto’s involvement of the viewer is how participatory is it really? Although the works force one into an awareness of one’s perception, it is an awareness that does not question but merely receives the information as given. One is simply presented with certain perceptual phenomena, which does not lead one anywhere beyond the fact that they exist.

Susan Heinemann