Once in a while, there’s an exhibition that succinctly presents so many contradictions, it seems that it may overflow from the gallery space, out into the street. That’s the feeling I had after visiting Soto Unearthed at Bosi Contemporary, and I do not mean this in a negative way.
Upon seeing the exhibition title, I was a little confused. Had Jesús Soto ever been “earthed,” so to speak? Considering the many shows of the late artist’s work, including one earlier this year at New York University’s Grey Art Gallery, I was hard-pressed to consider Soto an artist in need of revival, but my love for his work was strong enough to compel me to visit the exhibition.
On its face, the show is very small, containing just five works. However, the scale of these works is quite impressive, so to cram any more into Bosi’s gallery would be overwhelming. Physically, the exhibition fits perfectly. And as the old adage goes, good things come in small packages; I was overwhelmed by how articulately the team at Bosi was able to translate the work of a monumental artist into a show of this scale.
The five works are all from what was arguably Soto’s most “classic” period, when his work and his persona were at their peak: the late 1960 and early ’70s. They are exemplary of four types of Soto’s kinetic sculpture — Progressions, Extensions, Penetrables, and Murals, as well as one abstract kinetic painting. These words in themselves conjure up ideas and images that stretch out space, creating and negating it simultaneously.
The first work that the visitor encounters is “Progressione Blanca e Gialla’”(Progression in White and Yellow) from 1968, right at the entrance to the gallery. It is a wood rectangle, diagonally bisected, from which metal rods ascend, half in yellow, the other half in white. At the thinnest part of the diagonal, the rods are at their shortest, creating a kind of valley in the center. However, the shape of the work is almost impossible to describe, since, as with all of Soto’s works, it changes depending on the spectator. Imaginary lines are created where actual lines cease to exist, and the mass of the static object seems to expand and contracts as one walks around it.
Just to the right of this is the only wall-based work, “Rombo Cobalto (Cobalt Rhombus)” (1968), whose title is descriptive but may also be inaccurate, as the sculptural elements of the painting jut out and move just like in the floor works. Metal wires suspended with nylon string over striated lines vibrate, and as the spectator moves around the piece, the aesthetics almost create an audible twinge, like when a taut string is plucked.
Moving further into the gallery, there is “Penetrable Sonoro (Sounding Penetrable)” (1971), in which the audible elements of Soto’s work are pushed from the imagined into the real. The piece is a rectangle full of suspended, thick, square tubes. The forms created by the repetition of the tubes create the illusion that the space within the work is never ending. This is a succinct example of one of the contradictions that resonates throughout the exhibition and the work of Soto as a whole — that of contained infinity, wherein a sense of the infinite is conveyed by limited space and repeating forms.
The penultimate work is “Cubo y Estención (Cube and Extension)” (1971), a suspended, slightly dislocated cube made of the same extended wires as the first piece. The lines vibrate, although the work remains still, its energy dependent on the viewer’s engagement and movement. With Soto’s art, the object and the viewer become interconnected; one cannot exist independently of the other.
Finally, on the back wall of the gallery, we find “Murale Panorámico Vibrante Sonoro (Vibrating, Sounding Panoramic Mural)” (1968). After the crescendo created by the Penetrable and the Extension, the Mural offers a poetic and calm finish to an exhibition of spacial extension, and manipulation. The work is a large wood panel, with the striated lines that appear in so much of Soto’s art and bent metal wires reaching up in front of them. The relationship between the straight, parallel, horizontal lines in the background and the vertical, angled wires in the fore creates the impression of a soft visual vibration, but the tension is not as pronounced as in the previous works. Instead of ending with a bang, the exhibition ends with a mollified buzz.
The works on view at Bosi offer the viewer a form of participatory engagement. But the element that really sets this exhibition apart from others is the inclusion of two videos, one from 1968 that shows Soto interacting with his works as he is creating them, and another from the Fundación Cisneros Conversations series, between the artist and art historian and curator Ariel Jiménez. The videos offer a way for the exhibition to grow beyond the walls of the gallery: if the viewer takes the time to stand, watch, and listen, she can extend the art-spectator relationship that Soto plays with and manipulates in his work. The inclusion of the videos also creates something more important: a presence for the artist within this concentrated dose of some of his best works. After his passing in 2005, Jesús Soto’s voice is articulated more personably than just through his art.
What is particularly interesting about this exhibition is that it iterates so many of the running themes in Soto’s work within the format of the show itself. The varying scales of the artworks reveal the contradictions within Soto’s oeuvre, but the pieces fit comfortably within the physical space of Bosi Contemporary. The inclusion of the extra audio-visual material metaphorically extends the space beyond its physicality. The choice of works, although small in number, expresses the most important tenets of Soto’s art. The most striking thing, however, is the way the entire space seems to pulse and vibrate with an almost audible tension of forms.
Soto Unearthed continues at Bosi Contemporary (48 Orchard Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan) until December 2.