The Untold Story of Jesús Soto’s Iconic Caracas Sphere

Jesús Soto died 14 years ago today. His endlessly photographed Esfera de Caracas spent years in storage. How did it end up in its glorious location, right by the Parque del Este?

Photo: Supuesto Negado, retrieved.

Jesús Soto was worried.

By his side, his friend Sofía Ímber, designing a plan. Opposite them Jorge Casado Salicetti, Centro Simón Bolívar’s chairman, recently appointed by Rafael Caldera.

The maestro asked about a piece that the Federal District Governor’s Office commissioned, to be forgotten somewhere. Casado promised to make inquiries, although Caracas at the time—1994— had more pressing concerns: the collapse of Banco Latino and the subsequent banking crisis wreaked havoc among savers. An exchange controls regime had just been imposed for the first time that decade, while rockers and woperós vied for urban spaces. Chávez was in jail, Larry Tovar Acuña just pardoned, Parque Central’s decline after 15 years of state management was serious, and from her office at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Ímber insisted with Soto’s piece. Casado Salicetti picked up the phone, Asdrúbal Aguiar on the other end.

They dug up Soto’s piece out of a storage space that belonged the City Government, thanks to Aguiar. The idea was for the Esfera de Caracas, with its hundreds metal bars forming a dense, almost perfect representation of the geometric figure, to be placed at the Sociedad corner in downtown Caracas, as part of a promenade that would lead to the Bolívar Square and the house where the Libertador was born. But the last years of Lusinchi’s presidency and the rocky start of CAP II halted the plans. Now they needed a place and a reason. A year later, they found them.

An unexpected phenomenon

Today, Soto’s Sphere, Caracas’s symbol par excellence, isn’t the same one first displayed 21 years ago.

Today, Soto’s Sphere, Caracas’s symbol par excellence, isn’t the same one first displayed 21 years ago.

“If we take a look at the original pictures, the piece is a full, dense sphere,” says Casado Salicetti, “in the pictures we see today, the gaps are clear.” The restoration work, for which PDVSA La Estancia is responsible, hasn’t done it justice, but at least it prevented the main problem: the theft of the aluminum bars that left the piece bare in 2005.

The fame of the Esfera de Caracas (renamed “Esfera Caracas 360,” just because it can now be seen from the Santa Cecilia overpass) took Casado Salicetti by surprise: “When the piece was placed there, we didn’t think it would have any effect.”

Originally, the sphere was key for the full makeover of Parque Central as a cultural complex. “Our project comprised the space between Mexico and Bolívar avenues, in front of Zone II of Parque Central. The idea was to build two museums: the new headquarters of the National Art Gallery and a museum dedicated to the best Venezuelan artists of the 20th century,” said Casado Salicetti.

The recession put an end to those plans. A decade would pass for one of the National Art Gallery’s sections to be opened; Parque Central didn’t see the expected cultural explosion and the only thing refurbished was the San Agustín Boulevard (demolished by Metro de Caracas to build the Metrocable) and El Limón Hotel, which went from a two-bit motel to the unofficial residence of chavista middle-ranks.

I have the spot

It was Alicia Pietri de Caldera, then First Lady of the Republic, who found the place for Soto’s Sphere. Her official vehicle was parked on the side of the Francisco Fajardo highway, less than a kilometer from La Casona (the presidential residence until the Chávez era) and right beside La Carlota airbase. She called Casado.

“I have the spot,” she said.

“The spot?”

“For Soto’s piece. Come.”

“The fact that citizens chose Soto’s Sphere as the symbol of Caracas is a step, however small, to recover our roots.”

“My mom held La Casona as a very important symbol of democracy,” says Andrés Caldera, “and she noticed there was no landmark, no monument to mark the way.”

“If you think about it, part of Alicia Pietri de Caldera’s legacy, one of her goals during both terms, was improving urban spaces. In the second government, she was in charge of the program Un cariño para mi ciudad, and that’s why she ended up taking the project, along with Centro Simón Bolívar.”

“It’s people who pick the pieces they love and take as icons, not artists,” Casado Salicetti concludes. “The fact that citizens chose Soto’s Sphere as the symbol of Caracas is a step, however small, to recover our roots.”