Soto. The Fourth Dimension
Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao
October 18, 2019 – February 09, 2020
The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao presents “Soto. The Fourth Dimension”, a retrospective exhibition of the works of Jesús Rafael Soto (b. 1923, Ciudad Bolívar, Venezuela; d. 2005, Paris). Organized by the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in collaboration with the Atelier Soto in Paris, the show brings together over 60 works, including several of Soto’s large-scale participatory sculptures called ‘Penetrables’, some of his most iconic and important contributions to the recent history of art. In addition, the show includes a large number of historic paintings and mural works, which help to understand the fundamental role Soto played in the development of Kinetic Art from the early 1950s to the end of the 1960s, and to appreciate the development of his artistic practice up to the first decade of the 21st century.
“Soto. The Fourth Dimension“ also presents characteristic examples from his most important series, such as ‘Virtual Volumes’, vertical works that suggest large geometric forms suspended in the air; ‘Extensions’, floorbound pieces where a chromatic mass, sometimes opaque, and other times as light as a halo, emerge from the ground; and ‘Progressions’, works in which aerial forms protrude from the floor or ceiling to meet in what seems like a kinetic sequence or an unbroken play of tensions.
Over the five decades of his career, Jesús Soto played a fundamental role in the redefinition of the scope and social function of art. Breaking with the conventional separation of painting and sculpture in the 1950s, Soto’s practice evolved progressively beyond the visual realm to take on an emblematic role in the radical shift that affected the art object in the following years. From the optical explorations of his early period, Soto went on to participate in the first group of kinetic artists in Paris – together with such figures as Jean Tinguely, Iacov Agam, and Victor Vasarely. He also become associated with important international groups such as Zero and the circle around the Signals gallery in London.
In 1967, Soto began to develop his series of ‘Penetrables‘, large cubic structures made of hanging plastic or metal cords, which he would continue to work on for the rest of his career. Meanwhile, he also worked on architectural and pictorial series whose participatory potential is realized without immersing the spectator into the work, but still requiring them to move or participate in some fashion. Soto continued to work on large-scale commissions for public or institutional spaces up to his death in 2005. Museums such as the Stedelijk in Amsterdam in 1967, the Solomon R. Guggenheim in New York in 1974, the Palacio de Velázquez in Madrid in 1982, or the Jeu de Paume in Paris in 1997 have all devoted important survey exhibitions to his work.
Underscoring the idea of experience in terms of temporality, intensity, and spectator participation, “Soto. The Fourth Dimension“ offers a rare opportunity to reexamine this artist’s visionary and transforming career. The idea of a fourth dimension evokes the merging of space and time, and of form and experience in time, and is one of the fundamental concepts that artists of the mid-20th century inherited from the quasi-utopian spiritual period of the avant-gardes. To Soto, the artist must work in an area of shared inquiry with science and philosophy.
As an aesthetic experience, the fourth dimension opens up the way to all of Soto’s abstract and dynamic works, and is supremely expressed in his iconic ‘Penetrables’. In these works, Soto foreshadows the new contextual and relational directions contemporary art will follow from the 1960s onwards. According to the artist, “In the ‘Penetrables’, the spectator traverses vertical cords or bars that fill the entire available space and make up the work. From that moment on, spectator and work are physically and inextricably entwined.”