Lot 218
  • 218


400,000 - 500,000 USD
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  • AMB. N.Y. K
  • signed, titled and dated 1984 on the reverse
  • acrylic on metal and wood construction 
  • 62 1/2 by 62 3/4 by 6 in. 159 by 159.4 by 15.2 cm.


Charles Cowles Gallery, New York
Sotheby's, New York, 19 November 1990, Lot 85
Acquired from the above sale by the present owner


New York, Charles Cowles Gallery, Soto, May 1984, illustrated in color on the cover 
Paris, Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, Jesús Rafael Soto, January - March 1997, n.p., illustrated in color


The panel is in good condition. The white shadowbox that encases the painted metal squares and the pinstripe panel is dusty with a light soiling layer and fingerprints visible from handling. Inside the shadowbox on the bottom left side a 2" hairline crack is visible. Shiny marks from touching can be seen in raking light on the white background behind the metal squares. The brightly colored metal squares are in very good condition. There are minor surface irregularities in the paint layer. No significant losses or abrasions were noted on the painted squares. They are firmly attached to their wooden posts below. The black and white pinstripe panel is in very good condition with no damage observed with the exception of a shiny edge on the top left side of the panel. (This condition report has been prepared courtesy of Wilson Conservation, LLC)
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Soto’s first exposure to modern painting came in the form of reproductions of Cézanne landscapes passed furtively between students at the Academia. Cézanne’s profoundly innovative use of light was influential in his early thinking, but the pivotal moment that set him to embark upon building a new kinetic plastic language was a friend’s verbal description of Kazimir Malevich’s Suprematist Composition: White on White. The concept of this work “was a true revelation. From that moment on, that work became a source of inspiration: it was the most perfect, purest way to capture light on a canvas…When I saw it for the first time, almost ten years later the work didn’t give me anything more than what I had imagined in Maracaibo. I managed to understand its importance and assimilate its content without having to see it” (Jesús Rafael Soto, Jesús Soto in Conversation with Ariel Jiménez, New York 2011, p. 33).  Propelled by this breakthrough, upon his arrival in Paris in 1950 Soto dedicated himself to understanding the history of art in the first half of the twentieth century in order to address unresolved questions in visual expression. Obsessed by Mondrian, he identified an opportunity to further his advancements: in order for a work of art to hold greater expressive potential within Mondrian’s elemental, Platonic geometric vocabulary, it was necessary to break beyond two dimensions into relief. In particular, the poetic resonances of square (the fundamental component of AMB. N.Y. K) were fundamental throughout his lengthy career. “The square represented—and still represents for me—the most genuinely human form, in the sense that it is a pure creation of man. The square, and geometrical figures in general, are purely the invention of the human spirit, distinctly intellectual creations” (ibid., p. 45). 

Through the 1950s-1970s, Soto severely restricted his color palette and materials in order to explore the optical power of vibrating patterns to create the effect of a complete dematerialization of space. However, he was compelled in later years to return to the question of color through the Ambivalencias, a series of large works that interrogate perceptions of space and color through stable geometric elements. Soto “was interested in the possibilities of color combinations and vibrations, independent of or opposed to the traditional concepts of chromatic harmony. My purpose was not and has never been to find a beautiful harmony of colors, but to put them to work, to combine and blend them randomly, as if color were part of a magma in which man finds or creates the harmonies that interest him” (ibid., p. 92).  

AMB. N.Y. K is a masterful example from this series. Soto’s floating squares vibrate furiously on one side of the composition and hover softly, tensely on the other. He achieves in resplendent color an environment in which light, color, and space itself become dematerialized and unstable. Remarking on the project of the Ambivalencias, Soto explained: “The Ambivalencias are the solution I found to a number of issues that were more or less implicit in the work of the great Western artists from the end of the nineteenth century forward, but that had not been developed. As a result of the Fauves, of individuals like Matisse, Léger, Delaunay, the Russian constructivists, and in general those who tried to use color independently of form and extra-pictorial content, the power and ambiguity of color became manifest, and we witness its capacity to generate the illusion of a space that is optically variable” (ibid., p. 95).