Penetrable: Jesus Raphael Soto
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH) currently has a temporary installation up that belongs to their permanent collection. The Penetrable, 2004-2014, is a large installation by Jesus Rafael Soto, born in Venezuela, that was actually designed about 10 years ago, and finally realized this year. He passed away shortly after designing this installation. This required a collaboration with Atelier Soto, Paris, to create such a massive project without the artist.
Not familiar with the work of Soto, there is much information on him available in the museum and online. He is considered a pioneer of the kinetic art movement and is internationally recognized in Europe and Asia for his work, but not in the US. Creating only 25-30 Penetrables in his lifetime, this is the largest and only site specific installation, created for the museum’s Cullinan Hall, a large open mezzanine. The 1st Penetrable was created in 1967, however, many no longer exist because they were only temporary installations. This specific piece is composed of 24,000 plastic tubes weighing 7.5 tons with the hanging system, it is 28′ high and suspended from a reinforced ceiling. This piece also required that each tube be hand painted to exact measurements to create the perfect ellipse, making it also the 1st Penetrable to have an “image” included, and not be monochromatic.
The most obvious difference from the normal museum experience is that you are encouraged to touch the work. It becomes kinetic and is completed by the participation of the viewer. Soto created his pieces to enjoy by being able to move through and be touched and pulled. Children are encouraged to participate as well. When I arrive, there are plenty of people already immersed in the piece with several children running around. The tubes are soft and flexible, moving with me as I walk through the installation. Even with lots of people there, due to the scale, it was easy to still be alone for a little bit. At 2600 sf, this piece is actually larger than my entire house (1450 sf), so there is plenty of room to explore and feel some solitude. It actually feels endless, that I will never come out and walk through the tubes forever, in a forest of plastic. I have never had an art experience like this, something I was fully immersed in, almost part of it. I suppose I was, by activating the space, I became part of the installation. Artwork that involves the viewer is always an original experience, which is why I think it is important to travel to see art in person. Contemporary art in particular, is a genre that requires the participation of the viewer to complete the piece, whether by thoughts or action.
“For Soto, space was a perceptual field that had to be experienced, not just with the eyes but with the entire body and senses. He designed the Penetrable to make viewers more cognizant of their spatial surroundings, imagining the work as scalable and situated to both indoor and outdoor settings.”
It is the 2nd large scale installation commissioned in Houston that became the final projects of the artists that I am aware of. The other is the Dan Flavin installation at Richmond Hall commissioned by the Menil, According to their website, ” Just two days before his death in November 1996 Flavin completed the design for the space.” Completed by Flavin’s studio, it is a beautiful, large scale installation taking over the entire front hall. I have visited this building many times, writing about my previous experiences.
Designer Carolina Herrera’s line for NYFW (New York Fashion Week) 2014 was inspired by the kinetic art of Jesus Raphael Soto and Carlos Cruz-Diez. Watch the collection go down the runway in action here. I definitely see the inspiration of both of these artists. Many patterns remind me of the work of Cruz-Diez, but the clothing mostly seems to be inspired by the fact that the work of both artists must be completed by the viewer, from visual participation to actually entering the work, as in Penetrable. The design of the clothing is only complete once it is worn and actively moving. The movement in the clothing is visually beautiful to watch. Coincidentally, the MFAH also showcased the work of Cruz-Diez: Color in Space and Time in 2011, which I was able to experience for myself. His work requires the participation to view the work from different angles, otherwise you will never see the complete work. It was engaging and visually stimulating, being full of movement. This is a great video tour of the exhibition, giving you the experience of how to view a Cruz-Diez, something a static photo cannot do.
On the second floor of the museum Europe 1900-1975 Selections from the Museum’s Collection is being exhibited. I am able to see work from recognized masters that I always appreciate viewing. This included Pablo Picasso, which I had the pleasure of viewing Picasso: Black and White at the MFAH last year, Joan Miro, Anselm Kiefer, Henri Matisse, and Georg Baselitz,
whom I also viewed a solo exhibition in New York a few years ago. This just names just a few of the incredible artists on display here, but they all offer inspiration when it come to pushing boundaries, which is something that refreshes my art sensibilities.