Born in Ciudad Bolivar, Venezuela, in 1923, Jesús Rafael Soto began his artistic career painting film posters for local movie theaters as a teenager. After discovering Cubism as a student at the Escuela de Artes Plásticas in Caracas, Soto moved toward abstraction, fascinated by the speed, flashes of color, and chaotic geometry of the buzzing city around him. In 1950, he decamped to Paris, where he befriended artists like Yves Klein and Jean Tinguely. He would remain there for the next 50 years and become a pioneering figure in kinetic and Op art.
Despite these forms falling out of popular favor in the ’80s, both movements have made a resurgence as of late, with Soto at the epicenter once again. In 2013 the Centre Pompidou staged a retrospective of his career, and Soto prominently featured in the Guggenheim’s blockbuster “ZERO: Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950s–60s” show in New York. But Soto’s greatest showcase opens this January, in a double show at Galerie Perrotin that will traverse the Atlantic, with works spanning from 1957 to 2003, two years before his death, occupying both the gallery’s New York City and Paris locations. “Chronochrome” will feature some 60 works between the two locations, and is the first time Perrotin has done a double exhibition.
“We are seeing art history at work in this very moment, history being created before our eyes,” said Matthieu Poirier, a curator and scholar in France who specializes in kinetic and organized the Perrotin shows. “We’re in a moment now where people are beginning to define what Soto meant to the history of art.”
Soto’s influences represent a checklist of abstract art’s founding fathers, from the geometry of Mondrian to the spiritualism of Malevich to the organization of Maholo-Ngazy, but his work remains hard to categorize for scholars and critics. The Perrotin shows are not only a celebration of Soto’s career, but an argument for his continued relevance.
“Art history functions with labels,” said Poirier, “but he is more than a bridge between eras. His work could have been made today, and it could be shown in any contemporary gallery.”
While gallery owner Emmanuel Perrotin made his name working with artists like Damien Hirst and Takashi Murakami, he sees no difference between representing a “historical” artist like Soto and his more contemporary clientele. “It means a lot to us to be able to contribute in this way to the present and future history of Soto,” said Perrotin. “Soto was already an established artist during his lifetime, but we look forward to continuing his legacy.”