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Soto: The Houston Penetrable

Jesús Rafael Soto’s signature Penetrables series is one of the great marvels of contemporary art. The Houston Penetrable—the Venezuelan artist’s final, and most ambitious work—is the only one Soto (1923–2005) designed as permanent or semipermanent, and one of the few he created as an indoor piece.

A vast, floating sea of plastic strands suspended from the ceiling, theHouston Penetrable is completed only by the viewer’s participation. Intended to be touched, handled, and waded through, the strands compose a floating yellow orb on a transparent background. The 24,000 PVC (polyvinyl chloride) tubes, individually hand-painted and tied, hang two stories high from the ceiling to the floor in the Museum's Cullinan Hall.

This immersive, kinetic environment was designed by Soto on commission from the Museum in 2004 and has taken almost a decade to produce. Architect Paolo Carrozzino and producer Walter Pellevoisin—in tandem with the Museum and Atelier Soto, Paris—oversaw a team of artisans and ironworkers in France and Houston to bring this monumental work to life.

Accompanying the installation is an exhibition nearby of eight exemplary pieces from the various phases and series of Soto’s career—including his Plexiglas boxes, and selections from his Agujas (Needles), Ambivalencias (Ambivalences), and Vibraciones (Vibrations) series. These works emphasize the artist’s specific contributions to Kinetic art, giving Museum visitors an understanding of the totality and complexity of ideas expressed by the Houston Penetrable.

Soto’s Penetrables have been installed around the world over the past 50 years, from the Museo Soto in Ciudad Bolívar, Venezuela, in 1973; to the rotunda of the Guggenheim Museum in 1974; to MALBA - Fundación Costantini in Buenos Aires in 2003; and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) in 2011. The Penetrables have come to define the fully immersive art experience for generations of participants.

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