Jesús Rafael Soto (1923–2005) was born in Ciudad Bolivar, on the edge of the virgin forest in Venezuela, and studied art in Caracas, where he exhibited his paintings at the local salon until 1949. After working as the director of the academy of fine art in Maracaibo, Soto responded to the urgings of his compatriot Alejandro Otero and joined him in France. There, while taking part in the debates around Kandinsky and geometrical abstract painting, he met the members of the Madí group and the Uruguayan master of Art Concret Carmelo Arden Quin. This led him to a “simplification of figuration.”
A painter by day, he earned his living at night as a guitarist. From 1953 to 1956, Soto applied the arrhythmic structure of serial music to modern sculpture. Following in the footsteps of Lászlo Moholy-Nagy, whose Vision in Motion he had read, and Victor Vasarely, with his consummate use of moiré effects, his Vibrations optiques consist of motifs silkscreened on sheets of plexiglas to produce a visually dynamic effect. In 1958, Soto abandoned plexiglas to concentrate instead on hanging works. He hung metal grids in front of striped grounds (Concentric Squares) and found objects, such as branches or roots, in front of large-sale murals, as in his 1961 exhibition in Amsterdam, Bewogen Beweging.
The act of suspending works remained key to visual interactions between a horizontal plane and a cascade of lines on the end of nylon threads, as in the Vibrating Columns. In 1967, however, Soto changed the rules, studding the ceiling of the Denise René gallery with short vertical rods: no longer an action, suspension became a field. This show also saw the artist exhibit his first interactive penetrable: slender plastic hoses hung from the ceiling to the floor, placed before viewers without instructions or protocol. Soto had just reversed the modernist doxa. Here the power of gravity and earthly physicality was replaced by a vibrating atomization of mass, a kind of elevation that densified the void by a mimetic experience of atmospheric levitation. This notion was not unrelated, of course, to the space race, then at its height. The anthology of suspensions developed from this year onwards had its equivalents in Color Field painting and, in Minimalism, in the metal plaques set out by Carl Andre for viewers to walk on.
- Pauline Mari From the book 'Suspension', by Matthieu Poirier, published by Olivier Malingue Ltd and Skira, Paris, 2018. Book available to purchase from the gallery for £35.
London, Olivier Malingue, Suspension – A History of Abstract Hanging Sculpture 1918–2018, 1 October - 15 December 2018, p. 37, reproduced in colour p. 184.