He was born in Ciudad Bolivar, Venezuela. In his teens he worked as a commercial artist, painting posters for local movie theaters. He later entered the Escuela de Artes Plasticas in Caracas, where he met Carlos Cruz-Diez and Alejandro Otero. Upon seeing a Cubist painting by Georges Braque, he became interested in reductive and geometric modes of expression. Soto directed the Escuela de Artes Plasticas in Maracaibo from 1947 to 1950, when he led for Paris and began associating with Yaacov Agam, Jean Tinguely, Victor Vasarely, and other artists connected with the Salon des Realites Nouvelles and the Galerie Denise Rene.
In the mid-1950s Soto strove to create optical movement in his paintings and constructions. By the end of the decade he had developed an idiom in which squares, twisted wires, or other items are placed in front of a background of thin parallel lines, causing the objects to vibrate visually with the movement of the viewer. In 1969, for his retrospective at the Musee d'art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, the artist constructed the first of his large Penetrables, environments of hanging plastic or metal tubes that could be entered and displaced by the spectator. He completed many public commissions, including murals for the UNESCO building in Paris in 1970. Soto was instrumental in establishing the Museo de Arte Moderno Jesus Soto in Ciudad Bolivar in 1973. The monumental Esfera Virtual, for the Olympic Sculpture Park in Seoul, South Korea, was installed in 1988. One-person exhibitions of his work have been held at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 1968; the Fundacion Museo de Bellas Artes, Caracas, 1971; the Museo de Arte Moderno, Bogota, 1972; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1974; the Palacio de Velazquez, Madrid, 1982; the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Caracas, 1983; the Center for the Fine Arts, Miami, 1985; and the Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura, Japan, 1990. Soto's work has been included in major group exhibitions throughout the world including the 1963 Sao Paulo Bienal; the 1964 and 1966 Venice Biennales; and in Latin American Artists of the Twentieth Century, Centre George Pompidou, Paris, and Museum of Modern Art, New York 1992. Soto lives in Paris and Caracas.-(J.R.W. Latin American Artists of the Twentieth Century, Museum of Modern Art, New York)