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YVES KLEIN
BODY, COLOUR, IMMATERIAL
5 October 2006 – 5 February 2007

 

View of the exhibition. Room 13. Trilogy

 

Introduction 
Crossing the threshold to the invisible: from blue to three colours
Yves Klein: a perpetually searching artist

Blue and the theory of impregnation: towards the immaterial
The Blue Monochrome: revealing the immaterial
Klein and the experience of the void: “A man in space!”
The sponge as a metaphor for art

Gold and the illumination of matter: transfiguring the real
At the gates of eternity: the Monogolds
The flesh is spiritual: the gold Anthropometries
Fire as a universal explanatory principle: fire painting

Pink and the expression of incarnation: the return to the body
The third element of a trilogy: the Monopinks
Pink and blue: flesh and blood in the Grande Anthropophagie

Conclusion: Klein’s artistic trinity

Bibliography

 

 

 

Introduction retour sommaire

CROSSING THE THRESHOLD TO THE invisible: FROM blue TO THREE colours

The name of Yves Klein evokes first and foremost the ultramarine blue of his monochrome canvasses. These mysterious velvet-textured paintings that create an impression of plunging into pure colour each time you look at them are in fact the artist’s most famous works, so well known that they have become emblematic of his work. Yves Klein himself associated his name with the blue of his paintings by calling it IKB, International Klein Blue, and he often signed his works “Yves le Monochrome”.

But is there not more to Yves Klein’s work than these paintings? Even in the early years of his career, apart from these productions, Klein offered a great variety of works that broke away from the nature of the Monochromes, which, after all, are somewhat traditional in that they are paintings on canvas. He created ephemeral and immaterial works, such as the release of 1001 blue balloons into the sky in Paris in 1957, an exhibition consisting of an empty art gallery in 1958 and the sale of “immaterial pictorial sensitivity zones” in 1959. He published manifestos indicating that his work should be interpreted as a quest for immateriality. Thus the blue monochromes represent the most visible face of his art, evidence of a more fundamental work that remains to be discovered, or, as Klein himself said, “My paintings are but the ashes of my art”.

The exhibition Yves Klein. Body, Colour, Immaterial offers an opportunity to reinterpret Klein’s work, leading off from this declaration, by positioning the Blue Monochromes in a more complete context, as the first stage in a body of work that uses a foothold in the visible to cross the threshold into the invisible. Blue, the colour of sensibility, is in fact just one of the hues Klein chose for the Monochromes and his other more mature works, being followed by gold, a substance signifying transaction and the passage towards immateriality, and pink, representing flesh, the incarnation of the spiritual.

Progressing through the three themes, “Impregnation”, “Illumination of matter” and “Incarnation” that are associated with the three colours, the exhibition retraces the artist’s itinerary and culminates in the union of the three colours in the triptych works, evocative of the Kleinian trinity: grouped together in one work, blue, gold and pink constitute the link uniting the body and the spirit and ensuring the transition from one to the other.

Through this trilogy of colours, the artist adapted the religious dogma of incarnation to the artistic problematic, putting it at the disposal of all to enable their access to the invisible. “What Yves Klein has set up is destined to fade away in the face of the dialogue that the viewer establishes with the Beyond, which we each must define for ourselves, and for which the artist merely provides the principle, the motor.” (Camille Morineau, curator of the exhibition, in “Le Bleu, l’or et le rose : comment appropriation rime avec sublimation” [Blue, gold and pink: how appropriation rhymes with sublimation], exhibition catalogue). Revisited in this way, Yves Klein’s work can be interpreted as a generous opening to the Beyond of which we all dream.

Yves KLEIN: A perpEtuALLY SEARCHING artist

The fact that the interpretation of Yves Klein’s work is centred on the colour blue is partly due to the artist’s short life (1928-1962), which prevented him from developing all his projects to the extent they deserved. This shortened perspective has masked the diversity of his productions, which was nevertheless a feature of his approach from the outset.

Exhibited in 1955 under the title Yves, Peintures [Yves, Paintings], the first Monochromes were multicoloured. It was to make them more capable of carrying out the function that Yves Klein assigned to painting – to invest a space with sensibility – that he restricted them in 1957 to the colour blue alone, blue being the colour of the sky. Nevertheless, this blue domination was accompanied, more discreetly, by the regular production of the Monopinks, continuously from 1955 on, at the rhythm of one or two per year, as if he were keeping his other creative options open. Within his concept of space and sensibility, Klein also created reliefs, sponge sculptures, applied himself to working directly on the void during the 1958 exhibition at Iris Clert’s gallery entitled La spécialisation de la sensibilité à l’état matière première en sensibilité picturale stabilisée [The specialisation of sensibility in the raw material state into stabilised pictorial sensibility] and moved towards performance art.

In 1959, he established the equivalence of the three colours, blue, gold and pink, as he announced in a lecture he gave at the Sorbonne: “Blue, gold and pink are of the same nature. Any exchange at the level of these three states is honest.” A plurality of colours re-entered his work. In the same year, he made receipts to be handed over to buyers of his artistic sensibility zones in exchange for small gold ingots. The first models had a blue cover, a gold grid pattern with writing in pink; these receipts were destined to be burned.

The Monogolds appeared at the same time as the Cosmogonies and the Anthropometries, in 1960, followed by the Peintures de Feu [Fire Paintings] in 1961. All these works, in which the painting appears to break free from its frame, evoke themes of passage and ritual. The passage from the visible to the invisible is embodied particularly in one of his last pieces, simultaneously artistic and religious: a box filled with gold powder and blue and pink pigments created in 1961 as an ex-voto dedicated to Saint Rita, the patron saint of the impossible.

 

 

blue AND THE THEORY OF imprEgnation: TOWARDS THE immaterial retour sommaire

Impregnation, an operation that confers an artistic quality to matter, is a central concept in Klein’s work. Appearing with the Monochromes in the blue period, the concept of impregnation is linked to the colour blue, even though Klein later used the notion when he theorised on his work on space. Just as the Blue Monochromes are impregnated with “something” other than tangible matter that transforms them into works of art, the spaces in which the artist works become impregnated with invisible properties that he then proceeds to reveal.

Painting, space and the artist are interpreted according to the model of the sponge, a paradigmatic material that is quite naturally found in Yves Klein’s work.

THe blue monochrome: rEvEALING THE immaterial

Monochrome bleu sans titre [Untitled blue monochrome], 1960
Pure pigment and synthetic resin on gauze mounted on board, 199 x 153 x 2.5 cm
© Adagp, Paris 2007

The Blue Monochromes, initially called “monochrome propositions of the blue period”, were presented to the public for the first time at the Apollinaire gallery in Milan. It was on this occasion that Klein set down the basis of his theory of impregnation as an artistic method.

Indeed, the eleven canvasses, although identical, were not appreciated equally by the public: they were sold for different prices. Klein concluded that each painting, as well as its material reality, was impregnated with an immaterial quality that made it distinct from the others.

Thereafter, Klein paid particular attention to matter in his subsequent monochromes (IKB), as if the ability of a painting to capture what transformed it into a work of art depended on the matter comprising it.

Around 1957, he worked with thick matter to create reliefs, using sponges in particular. Then he applied the paint with rollers so that there would be no irregularities to interfere with the colour and he invented a synthetic resin that would not dull his ultramarine pigments. It is this very mixture that he baptised IKB and registered at the Institut National de la Propriété industrielle [National Institute of Industrial Property], in the form of an “enveloppe Soleau” (a simpler and less onerous procedure than a patent application).

Finally, in his search for an immaterial presence in his works, he rounded the corners of their frames and hung them projecting out slightly from the wall, so that the canvasses appeared to be suspended in space. Thus, although the IKB were still paintings in the traditional sense (two-dimensional objects that are painted and hung on a wall), they were on their way to becoming objects in levitation.

Klein AND THE expErience OF THE VOID: “a MAN IN SPACE!”

“Le Saut dans le vide” [The Leap into the Void], 5, rue Gentil-Bernard, Fontenay-aux-Roses, October 1960
Artistic action by Yves Klein
Title of the work by Yves Klein in his newspaper “Sunday 27 November 1960”:
“A man in space! The painter of space throws himself into the void!” 1960
© Adagp, Paris 2007

In the continuation of his work on pictorial space, Klein turned his attention to space itself, in other words the void, as specified in his theory of impregnation.

One of his first productions on the theme of the void was the famous exhibition “of the void” in 1958, entitled La spécialisation de la sensibilité à l’état matière première en sensibilité picturale stabilisée [The specialisation of sensibility in the raw material state into stabilised pictorial sensibility]. For this exhibition, Klein himself impregnated the space with artistic sensibility using blue as an intermediary. Indeed, whereas the interior space of the empty gallery was painted entirely in white, parts of the exterior where decorated in blue: the display window was painted blue, visitors were met by a blue curtain, the invitation cards and stamps were blue, and even the cocktails offered by the artist were tinted with methylene blue.

Thus the white space of the gallery could be perceived as being contaminated by the blue.

However, Yves Klein’s most renowned work on the void is undoubtedly his “Saut dans le vide” [Leap into the void], a photograph of which he presented in a fake issue of the “Journal du Dimanche” dedicated to his exploration of the void, on 27 November 1960.

On the front page of the newspaper, the leap appeared as a feat. The title of the image had a sensational tone: “A man in space! The painter of space throws himself into the void!” More precisely, as he explained in the legend accompanying the photo, he was attempting by this action to come as close as possible to space. “To paint space, I owe it to myself to go there, to that very space… without illusions or tricks, nor with a plane or a parachute or a rocket ship: [the painter of space] must go there by his own means, with an independent individual force, in a word, he must be capable of levitation.”

But does this mean that the photo was authentic? Although it is obviously a photomontage, the leap was not faked. When he carried out his action, Klein was met on the ground by an outstretched tarpaulin. This was the only “precaution” that has been removed from the final image, by replacing it with a shot of the street before the leap.

So Klein really did jump, thus experimenting and impregnating himself with the immaterial qualities of the void, so that he could transmit them to his artworks.

the sponge as a metaphor for art

Sculpture éponge bleu sans titre [Untitled blue sponge sculpture], 1959
Pure pigment and synthetic resin,
natural sponge on a rock base
28 x 18 x 11 cm
© Adagp, Paris 2007

Sponge sculpture is, like his work on the void, one of the derivatives of the Monochrome explored by Klein. Practised from 1958 up until his death, this art form offered the possibility of placing coloured objects in space, thereby acquiring the independence that the monochrome paintings sought with respect to the wall. More importantly, however, the sponge represented the perfect embodiment of the principle of impregnation.

Already in 1957, Klein had declared that visitors to his exhibitions, on viewing the Monochromes, must be “totally impregnated with sensibility like sponges”; an image undoubtedly inspired by the special characteristics of the sponge, which he was using to apply paint at the time: the sponge impregnates by being impregnated. In its passage from tool to artwork, without the intermediate stage of the canvas, the sponge demonstrates the transitive dimension of impregnation.

The first sponge sculptures were created as portraits of visitors being impregnated by the impregnated painting. The sponge, real matter, became the perfect metaphor for communicating the idea of the transmission of artistic sensibility.

From this point of view, the sponge can be compared to the use of old paint rollers in sculptures, or of the “living paint brushes”, models bathed in paint for the anthropometry sessions.

The sponge, as the model and the vector of impregnation, might well have become emblematic of Klein’s work, to the same extent as the IKB.

 

 

GOLD AND THE ILLUMINATION OF MATTER: TRANSFIGURING THE REAL retour sommaire

In 1949, Yves Klein found work with a framemaker who taught him gold-leaf gilding. According to Klein, this stint changed the face of his work: “That year was when I experienced the profound physical quality of the illumination of matter.”

From then on, gold for Klein represented materiality as a source of light, endowed with a driving force, life. But it would take another ten years or so before he brought this matter into his work in the form of a Monochrome, the Monogolds, that is to say a “living matter” that ensures the passage from the visible to the invisible. Indeed, through blue he gradually theorised on colour as a transition from the bodily to the spiritual. As we shall see, gold ensures this transition with the Anthropometries and fire painting.

AT THE GATES OF ETERNITY: the monogolds

Le Silence est d'or [Silence is Golden], 1960
Gold leaf on wood, 148 x 114 x 2 cm
© Adagp, Paris 2007

When he exhibited a first Monogold in early 1960, Yves Klein publicly reintroduced multiple colours into his work. But, unlike his initial multicolour Monochromes that sought “full and pure sensibility”, the Monogolds went beyond the realm of sensibility into the more complex domain of artistic alchemy. Matter of exchange, transmutation and absolute desire, gold alone has the artistic qualities to transform an object into an artwork.

More precisely, the Monogolds are often comprised of two distinct gold substances: gold leaf smoothed over wood to form a base, and in relief to depict coins, as seen in Le Silence est d’or [Silence is Golden] and Ci-gît l’espace [Here is Space], produced the same year. This dual aspect of gold points to the breadth of its powers. As a currency of exchange, gold is the promise of eternity, whereas when it impregnates the canvas, it is already that eternity. Gold, Klein once said, “impregnates the painting and gives it eternal life.” Gold is the matter that leads to immateriality.

THE FLESH IS SPIRITUAL: THE GOLD ANTHROPOMETRIES

Anthropométrie sans titre [Untitled anthropometry], 1960
Pure pigment and synthetic resin, gold,
on paper marouflaged to canvas, 220 x 150 cm
© Adagp, Paris 2007

Created at the same time as the Monogolds, the Anthropometries seem to serve an opposite function. Although art critic Pierre Restany coined the term, while Klein tended to call them “living paint brushes”, the Anthropometries do indeed refer to a certain measure of the human body.

Often created in public using paint-coated nude models, the Anthropometries are body prints made directly on the canvas. These paintings, in which the artist’s hand played no part, retain an image that is as close as possible to their subject. In this sense, they present an objective measure of the body.

This is what is referred to as a “static” Anthropometry. The bodies left their print in a distinct, defined and orderly way. There are also “dynamic” Anthropometries, in which the bodies moved across the canvas to leave more disorderly prints. But regardless of type, the Anthropometries, in contrast to the Monogolds, evoke matter at its most concrete.

And yet one of the first Anthropometries is gold on a black background, and there are several of this colour, like the one shown here.

Are we thus to conclude that there is a direct connection between the body and gold, and that the Anthropometries do not represent so much the physical body as a certain spirituality of the body? Klein’s theory on colour leads to this interpretation. Serving as an intermediary between the body and the mind, the material and the spiritual, the visible and the invisible, these artworks, as prints, reveal the immaterial concealed within the body.

With his gold Anthropometries, Klein is closely akin to Baudelaire’s Fleurs du mal: “Her spiritual flesh has the perfume of angels.” The gold of the Anthropometries is that very perfume.

FIRE AS A UNIVERSAL EXPLANATORY PRINCIPLE: FIRE PAINTING

View of the exhibition. The illumination and the material. Room 9. Fire.
Photo Georges Meguerditchian – Centre Pompidou

Just as he worked on the void and air by seeking to control space, on wind and water by exposing paintings to the whims of the weather, Klein also took interest in an other of the basic elements, fire. Following on from several experiments and projects, as indicated by Nicolas Charlet in his work Yves Klein, sculpteur [Yves Klein, sculptor] – charred blue Monochromes or a fountain of water and fire –, he began creating paintings in 1961 that were almost literally the “ashes” of his art.

Experimenting with this technique at the Centre d’Essais de Gaz de France near Paris, Klein created these works using models smeared with paint, as with his earlier Anthropometries, but also soaked with water, leaving their wet print on the paper. Equipped with an industrial blowtorch with varying degrees of intensity, he revealed the traces of their silhouette by shaping them with fire. The body, put to the test of fire, is as though purified of its cinder.

This technique furthers his gold painting as a revelation of the spirituality of the flesh. But it relates to much more than gold; there is also a connection with the two other colours so dear to Klein. As he confided to Pierre Restany during an interview in April 1961, “Fire is blue, gold and pink, too. They are the three basic colours in monochrome painting and, for me, it is a universal explanatory principle of the world.” By analysing the colours of the flame, particularly visible in gas flames, Klein indicates a unifying principle that makes his work a coherent whole, echoing the whole of the world: the trilogy of colours henceforth at the heart of his work.

 

 

PINK AND THE EXPRESSION OF INCARNATION: THE RETURN TO THE BODY retour sommaire

While blue is the colour that renders the immaterial visible, and gold is the colour that lets us into its kingdom, pink signifies a descent back down to earth, like a spirit incarnated here below. So it is not surprising that Klein attributed this meaning to pink when he appropriated the Christian doctrines of transsubstatiation and the trinity.

Just as the body of Christ holds a central position in religion, the body of the models is a source of perpetual searching in Klein’s art.
The Monopinks draw attention to this place the body and flesh hold, while the large Anthropometries exalt it by monumentalising it.

THE THIRD ELEMENT OF A TRILOGY: THE MONOPINKS

Grand Monopink [Large Monopink], 1960
Pure pigment and synthetic resin,
on thin canvas, 199 x 153 cm
© Adagp, Paris 2007

Although the Monopinks were present from the time of the first multicolour monochromes, they did not take on their full meaning until after the use of and theorising on gold. 1959 was when Klein understood the link between these two colours. “The price of blood cannot be silver, it has to be gold,” he said during a lecture given at the Sorbonne. Thus, while gold is the means of reaching the absolute, it also enables a return to the body and the fluid that sustains it, blood. For the body has a virtue: it is the source of inspiration to which the artist must constantly return.

In Klein’s pictorial system, this body is symbolised by pink, a colour teamed with the two others to perfect his trinity. Pink is as though blue’s double, the other side of the visible world. Camille Morineau has remarked that in order to reproduce blue monochromes and bring out the full depth of their colour, screening with pure magenta is necessary (exhibition catalogue, “De l’imprégnation à l’empreinte, de l’artiste au modèle, de la couleur à son incarnation” [From impregnation to print, artist to model, colour to its incarnation]). Pink, as much literally as metaphorically, clarifies and reinforces the sense of the blue.

The pink of the Monopinks, far from representing the colour of skin alone, functions in Klein’s art in the same way as the two other colours. Again, according to Camille Morineau (ibid.), “The Monopinks are also… what hold Klein’s system of reversibility between the carnal and the spiritual together.” Pink is the third element in this reversibility.

PINK AND BLUE: FLESH AND BLOOD IN: THE Grande Anthropophagie

Grande Anthropophagie bleue
Hommage à Tennessee Williams, 1960

(Large blue anthropophagy, Homage to Tennessee Williams)
Grande bataille [Great battle]
Pure pigment and synthetic resin
on paper marouflaged to canvas -276 x 418 cm
© Adagp, Paris 2007

Presented in the exhibition as counterparts of the Pink Monochromes, the large Anthropometries also explore incarnation. Among these often spectacular works, the Grande Anthropophagie bleue. Hommage a Tennessee Williams is an accurate reflection of the fragility and suffering of the flesh. In reference to the final scene of Tennessee Williams’ Suddenly Last Summer, adapted for the screen by Joseph Mankiewics in 1959, the work is an expression of great violence by the chaos and force of its marks.

In the play, the protagonist is the victim of nightmarish punishment with makeshift weapons inflicted upon him by the young boys he abused. Through the heroin, a young woman played by Elizabeth Taylor, who witnessed the scene, we learn that jagged tin cans were used to rip up his body into strips. Klein takes up this theme under the no less violent title of anthropophagy to evoke a world that combines flesh and blood, guilt and penitence, weakness and strength of the body capable of suffering and inflicting suffering in return.

This Anthropophagy is blue: it recalls the ambivalence of the flesh, at once earthly and spiritual, the bearer of physical and moral suffering, mortal and eternal and, if one follows the artist’s theory of incarnation, verging on the Christian resurrection of the body.

 

 

CONCLUSION: KLEIN’S ARTISTIC TRINITY retour sommaire

Ex-voto for Saint Rita of Cascia by Yves Klein, 1961
21 x 14 x 3.20 cm
Pure pigment, golf leaf, gold ingots
and manuscript in Plexiglas
Saint Rita Monastery, Cascia, Italy
© Adagp, Paris 2007

This trinity of colour, spirit and flesh – or following the title of the exhibition, body, colour and immaterial – is illustrated in a few triptychs and particularly one of Klein’s final works, an ex-voto he created for the shrine to Saint Rita in Cascia on loan from the Church for the exhibition.

Composed of inscriptions of the titles of his works and three compartments containing blue pigment, pink pigment and gold powder, this piece is of both art and religion. It conveys Klein’s exalted idea of art: an activity of at least equal value to that of religion, since it is worthy of dedication to an eternal being.

 

 

Selected Bibliography retour sommaire

Yves Klein. Corps, couleur, immatériel, Paris, Centre Pompidou, 2006 lien
Nicolas Charlet, Les écrits d'Yves Klein, Paris, Transédition, 2005
Denis Riout, Yves Klein : manifester l'immatériel, Paris, Gallimard, 2004
Yves Klein, Le dépassement de la problématique de l'art et autres écrits, Paris ENSBA, 2001
Nicolas Charlet, Yves Klein, sculpteur, Paris, Ed. de l'Amateur, 2000
Spiritualité et matérialité dans l'œuvre de Yves Klein, Nice, international colloquium, Musée d'art moderne et d'art contemporain, Prato, Centro per l'arte contemporanea Luigi Pecci, 2000

Consult the exhibition announcement lien

 

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Centre Pompidou, Public and Educational Action Unit, November 2006.
Text: Vanessa Morisset
Layout: Michel Fernandez
Translated by Vice Versa
Copyreader: Olivier Rosenthal
Dossier on-line at www.centrepompidou.fr/education/ section on ‘Educational Dossiers’
Co-ordination: Marie-José Rodriguez