Jesús Rafael Soto (1923-2005)

The Venezuelan artist Jesús Rafael Soto died at his home in Paris last Friday. Some of his work can be seen around Caracas, although in the last two years public works of art have suffered vandalism and damage throughout the city. Soto's sculpture "Esfera Caracas" (1996), located next to La Carlota airport in the east of Caracas, was a magnificent orange sphere built out of hanging wires and cables, each one perfectly painted and lit from below with flood lights, so that you'd see it as you drove by on the Autopista Fajarado freeway that cuts through the city from one end of the valley into the other, right below a sign on a hill above the airport in white block letters among trees: CAURIMARE. The sphere can be seen from both directions of traffic and definitely by some of the small airplanes that fly into and out of La Carlota. I've driven by that sculpture many times while visiting Caracas recently. The sphere always looked best at night when it glowed orange like a harvest moon or stage set.

Now the sculpture has been stripped of its painted cables, so that only a few scraggly lines hang in what was once a sphere and is now a skeleton. The local and federal governments did little to protect the sculpture and it was pilfered into ruin. Soto, however, produced a large amount of work and other pieces of his can be seen throughout Caracas and Venezuela.

Simón Alberto Consalvi discusses Soto in an essay in today's El Nacional. Soto's paintings were included in a small but excellent exhibit at the Fogg Museum in Cambridge a few years ago, called "Geometric Abstraction: Latin American Art from The Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Collection."

The "Esfera Caracas" had a similar design to this smaller sculpture from 1990. A few more samples of his work can be found here and here. He helped to give Caracas a distinct architectural personality, using a form of late modernist engagement with abstraction. Futuristic, color-concentrated buildings and public sculptures. Embracing organic and pastoral forms and inspirations in conjunction with the functional aspects of all public sculpture. Repetition as a machine symphony evoking tree branches or vines.

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