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Through March 19, 2006, Museum of Latin American Art [MoLAA], Long Beach

by Daniella Walsh

"Sphere de Bale Esgera de Bale," 1997,
paint on metal, 43 1/2 x 45 1/2 x 45 1/4".

Color a la Izquierda / Color to the Left",
1993, mixed media, 40 x 40 x 6".

"Contrast Contraste," 1990,
mixed media, 40 x 40 x 7".

Azul y Negro / Blue and Black," 1976,
wood and metal, 40 1/8 x 40 1/8 x 6".

Kinetic Art brings to mind Alexander Calder mobiles or sculptural works manipulated mechanically or by natural forces.  Jesús Rafael Soto’s work becomes kinetic through his intricate layering of geometric designs, the physical movement of spectators, and clever manipulation of optical illusion.  At first Soto’s pieces (difficult to classify amalgams of painting and three-dimensional or relief construction) appear to owe their impact to the geometry of Piet Mondrian or European Constructionists (Soto was an avid student of Mondrian).  But then, Soto’s sense of color and design contains it own magic.

Based on a simple grid of black and white vertical lines, the works are embellished by stainless steel or painted (in bright primary colors for the most part) squares that appear to dance before spectators’ eyes.  Monochromatic and stunning in black and gray tones, “Vibration” (1965) features a series of uniform squares that, as you contemplate them, begin to undulate.  As one’s eyes travel up or downward, the squares begin their sensuous movement.

Soto adds further three-dimensional elements by stringing monofilament into geometric background shapes and adding bent and painted steel rods to his constructions.  “Panta and White” (1990) is a thus layered composition that relies on the eye’s tendency to connect disjointed lines or dabs of color into a singular image.  Then again, an elegant, round composition titled “L‚Oeil de Boeuf (Bull’s Eye)” (1963) defied the majority by staying still, no matter how much one did the bent-knee shuffle in front of it.  Beauty will not always deliver what it promises, alas.

The show also includes a few freestanding sculptures assembled from painted and cut rods to resemble balls or other more freewheeling shapes.  Photographs of Soto’s public works located in Paris, Caracas and Seoul, among other major cities give further insight into this innovative artist with the mind of a “mad architect” or someone driven by an, in this case engaging, obsessive-compulsive streak.

The only downer is that the Museum’s education department put up a “how it’s done” display that may educate viewers but also de-mystifies the works to those patient enough to plow through the information.  The main appeal of Soto’s work is that element of magic or alchemy, and thus only mystery and wonder should be the docents here.