Soto belongs to the generation of young Latin American artists that burst upon Paris in the 1950s, channeling geometric abstraction into the radical innovations of Kineticism and Op art. After training at the Escuela de Artes Plásticas in Caracas, Soto followed his classmate and fellow abstractionist Alejandro Otero to Paris in 1950, where he was drawn into the orbit of the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles and the Galerie Denise René, the cradle of postwar geometric abstraction. Working alongside an international group of artists that included Yaacov Agam, Jean Tinguely and Julio Le Parc, Soto explored the perceptual problems first proposed in the work of Piet Mondrian and radicalized by the optical experiments of Victor Vasarely, searching for the means of pushing abstraction beyond mere illusionism.
In his classic works from the 1970s, Soto characteristically combined monochromatic panels with oscillating metal rods that introduce a dynamic spatial and perceptual tension between the artwork and the viewer. A Hole over Orange belongs to a small series of works-- including All Blue (1971), like the present work shown at Soto's major retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 1974--in which the artist introduced a cut-out element into the wood surface. The impact of the elliptical void is both critically and formally sophisticated: in removing the center of the work, Soto in effect literalized the traditional vanishing point of perspectival painting, excavating the deep space of the image and projecting it outward, directly into the realm of the spectator. An interrogation into the medium of sculpture, A Hole over Orange creates dimensional tension between the bas-relief effect of the cut-out shape, the kineticism of the metal rods, and the objecthood of the minimalist monochrome. The bright orange expanse is a refreshing departure from the muted tones with which Soto often worked, and the rich chromatic saturation provides a spectacular backdrop to the perceptual play at its center.
"Soto's achievement has been to give a luminous imaginative force to the idea of continuum," critic Guy Brett remarked of Soto's works from this time. "Forms are not localizable, it's not possible to say: there are the forms and this is the space that contains them. Forms and space are continually creating each other, changing into each other."(1) That sensation of constant flux perfectly describes the amorphous space within and without Soto's art, the continuum that transforms the elements of painting--color, space, line--into pure perceptual experience. As Brett concludes, "It has always been part of the poetry of Soto's work to be half in the world and half out of it. The rods oscillate between the abstract world of relations and the world of things. Unpredictable currents from the world of things activate and bring to life the painting's space."(2)
1) G. Brett, Soto, October-November 1969, New York, Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, 1969, 15.
2) Ibid., 16.