Visual Art

Penetrating the "Houston Penetrable"

The monumental final work of late Venezuelan artist Jesús Rafael Soto will hang through the summer at the MFAH.

Photography by Alice Alsup May 13, 2014

Soto: The Houston Penetrable
Thru Sept 1
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
1001 Bissonnet St.

Now hanging in the Museum of Fine Arts’s Law Building is the late Venezuelan artist Jesús Rafael Soto’s final and arguably most impressive work, a project a decade in the making. Like many of his works, the sculpture is made of PVC (polyvinyl chloride) strands—in this case, 24,000 of them, all of hand-painted and hung, two stories high, from the ceiling to the floor in the Museum's Cullinan Hall. The 3D curtain of ropey plastic strands compose a yellow orb that seems to float against a transparent background.

It’s an installation that visitors are expected to experience on many different levels. The sculpture is meant to be touched, handled, and waded through, twisted and fondled.  Soto: The Houston Penetrable, which will hang in the Law Building through September 6, is part of an exhibition of eight works by Soto. The MFAH commissioned “The Houston Penetrable” in 2004. Soto died the following year, leaving his plans for the work behind. It’s taken the museum nine years to execute his vision.

Architect Paolo Carrozzino and Walter Pellevoisin, a producer and former assistant to Soto, oversaw a team of artisans and ironworkers in France and Houston that carried out Soto’s wishes. “We had to figure out a special method to create that orb in the 24,000 strands,” Ramírez said. “[Carrozzino and Pellevoisin] had the know-how about the artist, what he thought about the works, how he produced them.”

Because Soto designed the piece for Cullinan Hall, it cannot be shown anywhere else, and the MFAH plans to show it each summer. “We want to make it a summer destination piece—something people can look forward to seeing and experiencing,” Ramírez said. “The idea is that because it’s a major piece not only commissioned by the museum, but also owned by us, we obviously want to show it as much as we can.”

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