Renowned as the leading exponent of kinetic art, Jesús Rafael Soto explored the dematerialization, or ‘disintegration’ of the art object by creating an original kinetic vocabulary with origins in serialization. In Soto's mature work, optical effects are achieved through superimposition. Ultimately, these experimental, serialized paintings achieve a sense of depth through an overlay of shapes and rigorously defined black delineations. It is the relationship between the patterned overlays, and the viewer’s perception of the resulting kaleidoscopic moirés that Soto wields to render as the immaterial aspects of the universe: “…I have never sought to show reality caught at one precise moment, but, on the contrary, to reveal universal change, of which temporality and infinitude are the constituent values. The universe, I believe, is uncertain and unsettled. The same must be true of my work” (Marcel Joray, Soto, Neuchâtel 1984, p. 140).
Following his baroque explorations of the late 1950s and early 1960s, in which he used recycled and everyday materials to begin subtle explorations in the dematerialization of space, he returned in 1962 to the pure geometric form, seeking to create transcendent visual experiences within an increasingly ascetic plastic lexicon. During this period, Soto restricts his formal vocabulary to a small group of defined elements: squares, rectangles, straight lines– and employs it to astonishingly diverse ends over the course of the 1960s and 70s. In T con negro, Soto’s restraint reaches its apex, as he creates a visual environment in which all tangible matter appears to dissolve before our eyes using a single element: the line. The emergence of the Tes series marks a critical moment in Soto’s oeuvre, as “their trembling unfolding implicates for the viewer a vision of the painting that is quite different from the contemplative effect induced by the calm swaying of the hanging bars of the preceding series” (Jean-Paul Ameline, “Au Carrefour des avant-gardes” in Soto: Collection du Pompidou, Paris 2013, p. 25).
Building upon the neoplastic language pioneered by Piet Mondrian and Kazimir Malevich, especially in their treatment of geometry and abstraction, Soto developed his compositions by adhering to a self-imposed, gridded format and a limited color scheme. Having traveled to Holland in 1950 to see a large body of Kazimir Malevich’s and Piet Mondrian’s work, Soto had already undertaken a close study of the Dutch artist’s progressive exploration of abstraction—from his early Cubist tree series to his iconic grids. Like Alexander Calder 20 years earlier, Soto aimed to move beyond the stasis of two-dimensional paintings as well as the illusionism that dominated geometric abstraction in the 1940s and 1950s. Wassily Kandinsky’s text Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1912) was a seminal resource for the young artist as he began to experiment with works which suggested movement and instability. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, he was immersed in projects in which he used almost no color but, instead, explored the vibrations created by line and its dematerialization through the inclusion of hanging elements. In T con negro, Soto engages viewers as active participants in the process of perception and experiments with the serial repetition of color and geometric forms in an effort to create optical vibrations: what he referred to as ‘the displacement of the viewer.’
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