Alight Anew in Indian Yellow

March 19, 2012

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

Meditating on Mathias Goeritz’s Message

November 10, 2008

Some of my favorite contemporary works on view at LACMA aren’t inside BCAM; they’re part of the Latin American art galleries, which includes some stunning work of the last fifty years from Jésus Rafael Soto, Hélio Oiticia, Cildo Meireles, and Francis Alÿs.

My personal favorite in the gallery is Message (Mensaje), from 1967, by Mathias Goeritz, who was German-born, but spent the last forty years of his life in Mexico. The work—just a piece of gold, punched metal—rewards patience.

Mathias Goeritz, Message (Mensaje), 1967

At first I thought it looked almost like a textile; seeing it in print (or onscreen) heightens that feeling. But the punches in the steel give it a kind of topography. Then I started wondering about how those holes were punched: rigid horizontal lines across the panel, the density of the lines letting up in places—it’s composed. Yet there is also a kind of randomness created by how the metal was punched: in some places it has been completely punched through, creating tiny black voids all over. If you get up close enough you can see the burgundy-colored wood peeking through.


The longer I stare, the more colorful Message becomes. It’s really not “just gold”; in addition to the black pockmarks, the leafing has taken on a bruiselike shade of greenish purple, revealing itself in the few areas of the surface that haven’t been disturbed by the punches. I start to notice cracks in the gilding, like spider cracks in damaged sidewalks. I wonder how much of Message is a result of its age. Was it more uniformly gold when Goeritz first created it? Was it even more luminous than it is now? What qualities has it taken on in the last forty-one years? What qualities will take on in the next?

Scott Tennent

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