Alight Anew in Indian Yellow

Conservator John Hirx immersed in Jesús Rafael Soto's Penetrabile, 1990.

The Jesús Rafael Soto sculpture, Penetrabile, a favorite of visitors posting to Flickr, has a new look. The piece invites one to plunge into the colorful soft plastic tubing and regard the world from within a forest of glowing color.

Head objects conservator John Hirx recently oversaw the transformation of the piece. The original chartreuse tubing was replaced with new tubing in a shade that one of John’s colleagues described as “Indian yellow.” (Conservators are precise about such things, and John notes by way of historical interest that the term “Indian yellow” is derived from a color popular in traditional Indian miniature painting made by feeding mango leaves to cows, then collecting and drying their urine to extract the pigment—today, the pigment is synthetic, as the original method was hazardous to the cows. The tubes are not made with this pigment, but the color is a close approximation.)

Exchanging all of the tubes was no small task. John estimates that the piece requires 20,000 linear feet of the specially manufactured plastic tubing, and a complete back up set is on hand to facilitate ongoing maintenance. There are between 2,000 and 2,500 tubes suspended from the overhead grid. It took two teams working 2.5 full days just to swap out the tubes, each of which was precut to the perfect length to rest lightly on the ground, resulting in a gentle bend that catches the light. John noted that, right now, between about 11 am and 1 pm, when the sun passes across the sky overhead, those tubes sparkle and glisten in the midday sunlight.

Penetrabile, on loan from the Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, is on view on the LA Times Central Court at LACMA for at least another year.

Amy Heibel

4 Responses to Alight Anew in Indian Yellow

  1. jen W. says:

    I saw a similar work, possibly this exact piece, in Texas about 4 years ago and was delighted to see it at LACMA a few months ago. I wonder if I saw the original or the new version. Is there a series of these works? I think I also saw a photo once of a blue one. Any more information about this work and whether it is a series and when the conservation took place would be welcome! Thank you!

  2. micki says:

    @jen W: Rafael Soto, Penétrable BBL bleu, 1999, was on view at MOCA recently in a show called “Suprasensorial.” Photos from that show are available on the site in the archives section, or you can just search the title of the work, above, on Google.

  3. Ilona Katzew says:

    You’re absolutely correct. The piece on view at LACMA was previously on loan to the Blanton Museum, Austin (and also to the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City). Soto created a few “penetrables,” interactive works made of metal and plastic that are designed to be traversed bodily and experienced by all the senses.

  4. […] were two main ones we wanted to take the girls to see, which were Urban Lights and Penetrabile. They had so much fun running through all the lampposts and they especially loved the yellow […]

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