IN ALL THE ARTS THERE IS A PHYSICAL COMPONENT WHICH CAN NO LONGER BE CONSIDERED OR TREATED AS IT USED TO BE, WHICH CANNOT REMAIN UNAFFECTED BY OUR MODERN KNOWLEDGE AND POWER. FOR THE LAST TWENTY YEARS NEITHER MATTER NOR SPACE NOR TIME HAS BEEN WHAT IT WAS FROM TIME IMMEMORIAL. WE MUST EXPECT GREAT INNOVATIONS TO TRANSFORM THE ENTIRE TECHNIQUE OF THE ARTS, THEREBY AFFECTING ARTISTIC INVENTION ITSELF AND PERHAPS EVEN BRINGING ABOUT AN AMAZING CHANGE IN OUR VERY NOTION OF ART.—PAUL VALÉRY1
There might be a paradox implicit in trying to organize a retrospective of the work of Yves Klein, an artist who claimed that his paintings and sculpture were merely “the ‘ashes’ of [his] art.”2 On the surface, however, it makes perfect sense. All the elements to create a successful exhibition are crystallized around the personality of an artist who burnt the candle at both ends and left an impressive body of innovative, influential artworks—a myth almost too messianic, and who, like fellow artists Piero Manzoni, Blinky Palermo, and Pino Pascali, had a career too short and a life lived too fast. Seven years dedicated to artistic production, and then Yves Klein was gone. Barely older than Jesus when he died, Klein’s imprint on the creative landscape of the second half of the last century is as deep as that of a stigmata. It is still felt, but we do not fully comprehend why, or we take this mark for granted, belief in the myth perhaps overwhelming critical analysis. With Klein, one risks elevating devotion to the relics of his life and mystique over his aesthetic project.
Yet the myth, although almost too perfect, is deserved. Seven years of commitment to nonstop production of ideas, projects, and artworks, enough to fill the lives and careers of numerous artists. One question recurs concerning artists like Klein who disappear too early: what would they have gone on to create if they had not faded prematurely? Or is the real question, did they evaporate because their contribution was complete? For Yves Klein, perhaps the time was not right, perhaps society was not prepared for the next step, for his artistic concepts and their implications for the art world and culture at large. Klein did, after all, attempt to overcome the problematics of art. He considered the artworks he made, which I refer to as relics, to be the ashes of his true artistic project. Brilliant ashes. Beautiful debris, which we cannot help but revere, as he gave them the attributes of icons, as with the monogolds, or his votive offering dedicated to Saint Rita, the patron saint of lost causes.
What is the nature of the paradox that might inhabit every Klein exhibition? It is the very notion of an exhibition as an experience constrained in space and time and articulated around a series of objects. Therefore, Kerry Brougher and I had to face this conflict when approaching this retrospective, and I would like to share a bit about the methodology. This project began for me in 2003 in Yves Klein’s apartment on rue Campagne-Première in Paris, a location where Klein produced numerous works and where many of his friends, including Arman, Martial Raysse, Raymond Hains, and Pierre Restany gathered around what became the amorphous movement known as Nouveau Réalisme [New Realism]
At the time, I was researching a potential acquisition for the Walker Art Center. The work in question was one of Klein’s Anthropometry paintings, Suaire de Mondo Cane [Mondo Cane Shroud], 1961. This piece, one of the rare Anthropometries executed on gauze, was conceived under specific circumstances and could almost be interpreted as the shroud of the artist himself. In 1961, Director Gualtiero Jacopetti proposed to include Yves Klein in his movie Mondo Cane. Klein consequently made an Anthropometry on two layers of translucent gauze so that the camera could record through the fabric and from behind the bodies, the “living brushes,” imprinting themselves onto the canvas. The resulting film, which can be considered the first global exploitation movie, rather than treating seriously Klein’s process, was instead disrespectful of the integrity of the artist and his work. The virtue of the film, nevertheless, was to place emphasis on Klein’s relationship to the action and the process of making a moving image.
Looking closely at the painting that later entered the Walker Art Center collection and comparing it with the film itself, I noticed some discrepancies between what was on the canvas and what ended up on the screen. Slight discrepancies, but discrepancies still. When questioned about it, Rotraut Klein-Moquay, the artist’s widow, recalled that before even going in front of the camera, Klein rehearsed with the models.3 Suaire de Mondo Cane was the object produced during this rehearsal; the location of the painting created in the film is not known. Comparing this preliminary painting and the film reaffirmed how deliberate Klein was and how far removed his process was from the impulsive instinct of Abstract Expressionism, abstraction gestuelle, and École de Paris. Klein’s awareness of the camera, of the moving image, is striking; it is as if the celluloid of the film appeared as an alternative medium for his work, as if the translucent quality of the gauze was a surrogate for the transparent nature of the film negative.
Suaire de Mondo Cane might be the ultimate Klein, not necessarily for the obvious reasons, but because, in many ways, it signals Klein’s interest in and attraction to what lies behind the art object, encompassing other disciplines, such as film, theater, music, and architecture. Moreover, this particular Anthropometry, in which the bodies are atomized by the transparency and porosity of the fabric, more than in other works from this series, emphasizes how far Klein was reaching, the intensity with which he sought to give a visual presence to a cosmic, spiritual body, to the immateriality of the aura, which neither photography nor film, nor an exhibition, could truly capture. Everything in Klein’s short career leads toward a nothingness that overlays and envelops his own conception of a wholeness in which everything is blue. Or in Paul Eluard’s words, “the earth is blue, like an orange.”4 Klein’s gaze was cosmic and spiritual; his work touched upon evanescence; he strove to formulate an environment in which traces of his art, the vestiges of his own hand, would be superfluous.
This specific Yves Klein, this molecular Klein, deeply interests me. This is an artist whom no exhibition, no attempt to bring order to the work, the persona of the artist, or his world through a rational and systematic analysis can truly represent beyond merely displaying the objects left behind—the ashes of his art.
As contradictory as it seems, it was necessary to me to treat Klein as a living artist before confronting the artworks. One cannot begin with the exegesis, but with the artist’s voice, as if Klein did not die on June 6, 1962, just after he declared that he would only produce immaterial works from that point forward. As if, on that day, he himself became immaterial, atomized, everywhere, with everyone, one to one, always, forever, now, and then. In other words—still here.
The task was to extract from hundreds of pages of writings, letters, musings, and theories, published and unpublished, something that can reposition how Klein is perceived. I am not sure whether he is actually the last step before performance art or the first step toward it; I am not sure whether the questions painter/not painter; proto-conceptual, proto-land art, proto-Pop, proto-artist as entrepreneur are relevant. At a moment when museums are struggling to understand their relationship to the performative, to the ephemeral, to the object, Klein seems not only to have anticipated these questions, but also, more than that, to have disallowed spending time to answer them, as they seem regressive and constraining to the artist and to the work. The question is not so much should an institution acquire this work, this performance, this idea. The real question, if we have ambitions to change the character and the structure of our institutions and the way they represent our times, is what is the nature of the transaction, symbolic or real, for objects, projects, knowledge? One of Klein’s legacies might be the recognition that not everything can be represented through an exhibition, not every artwork can be destined for the museum.
Yves Klein was gifted, and he made a gift of his works. The economy of the gift was integral to his thinking and his transaction of the Zone de sensibilité picturale immatérielle [Zone of Immaterial Pictorial Sensibility]. Yet, it must be asked, as he himself suggested, is it possible truly to acquire a work by Yves Klein? Clearly, at least in one sense of “acquisition,” it is possible for a museum or collector, public or private, to take possession of an object by Klein. Is it an artwork by Yves Klein or the ashes of a larger project? For are these paintings and sculptures that have entered art collections really works by Yves Klein? They are tangible objects conceived and made by Klein, but perhaps they are not truly artworks. They could be the precursors that anticipate the real work, that which is the object of a gift. Klein’s conceptual project rather than his aesthetic objects are available to everyone attentive enough to perceive them. What if Klein envisioned an art-making in which the art lay not in an object, but in a breathless, transitory experience—something that is always already gone? What if all the monochromes, the sponge reliefs, monogolds, Fire Paintings, and Anthropometries were just a significant yet preliminary draft for an art still to come? Just artifacts. Klein himself wrote, “my paintings are not my definitive works. They are the leftovers of a creative process.”5
What would be left? Earth, wind, and fire?
Is it possible to write a different story of Klein’s oeuvre that reverses the focus, locating his paintings and sculpture—the traditional, physical manifestations of his creative process—at the periphery? With Klein, one can identify a deliberate path toward the elimination of classical categories such as “painting” and “sculpture.” “Classical” for two reasons: by the nature of the media and because Klein always claimed he was a representational painter, and that, rather than being abstractions, as many perceived them, his monochromes were, in fact, true depictions of space.6 In “Loi Originale du Sujet Connaissant” [The Original Law of Knowledge], he wrote the following: “Abstract, non-objective, non-figurative painting, call it what you want, is an action anti great Nature, a theft.”7 He went even further when he wrote: “Abstract painting is the picturesque literature of psychological states. It is impoverished. I am delighted that I am not an abstract painter.”8 In another text, he stipulated: “My monochrome propositions are landscapes of freedom.”9
In his essay “Les Grands Seigneurs et Proprietaires d’Aujourd’hui” [The Lords and Owners of Today], Klein declared, “my paintings are here, exist, like ownership titles.”10 The paintings are important but secondary. They serve as stand-ins for what Klein sought to embrace: space, void, and freedom. Klein argued that his monochromatic propositions picture this landscape of freedom: “For me, the art of painting is to produce, to create freedom in the first material state.”11 If you listen to Klein, and trust him, he is a realist of a new age liberated from the burden of materiality, of materialism.
One could even argue provocatively that the monochrome paintings, blue or otherwise, do not have distinctive, individuated aesthetic qualities, but are relatively interchangeable. One painting is not better than another. Blue is blue. A larger one might appear more blue than a smaller one, but even that differentiation could be argued. Would the artist agree that his monochromes offer limited aesthetic value? Certainly, this assessment would raise a stir in the art world, from institutions to the auction market, but one aspect of Klein’s “Blue Revolution” was to attempt to change the fiduciary and fetishistic structure of the art world. His intent was made clear at Galleria Apollinaire in Milan in 1957, when he assigned different prices to a series of identical paintings.
This defiance of the market economy was in keeping with the spirit of the time. Instances of other artists following similar strategies are plentiful; for example, in the 1960s, Edward Kienholz created a series of almost identical watercolors, differentiated only by numbers painted in the center of the canvas—their price. Thus both Klein and Kienholz questioned a market-driven paradigm. Klein also sought to reinforce the equivalence principle of his paintings: one is not better or worse than the next. Furthermore, his serial method of production stressed not only that the works are all similar, but also represented the way in which Klein strove to remove his own subjectivity and individuality, renounce aesthetic intentions, and, perhaps, even authorship.
Yet Klein, as groundbreaking and forward-looking as he may have been, was still the product of postwar France. His understanding of seriality, or the way it is embodied in his work, was mechanical. His process was not based on awareness of a culture saturated and dominated by images and products—the society that Andy Warhol sought to transcend when he embraced silkscreening in the early 1960s around the time of Klein’s death. Klein still belonged to the era of the artist as an art worker, a period preceeding that of the artist as an entrepreneur delivering goods and services: Klein was pre-industrial; Warhol was post-industrial.
One work, however, might contradict this statement—a work I consider one of Klein’s most important, and perhaps most radical, although certainly one of his lesser known and acknowledged creations. Yves Peintures [Yves Paintings] is a small booklet originally published in Madrid in November 1954.
It is composed of sixteen sheets of unbound paper, printed on one side only, ten of them containing tipped-in sheets of found, colorful, commercially printed paper that are seemingly reproductions of monochromatic paintings (although these paintings never existed). Each monochrome is signed “Yves,” given a random dimension, and titled with the name of a city in which Klein had lived. Every booklet is unique as the sequencing of colored “monochromes” varies in each. Following exhibition catalogue protocol, the publication begins with a preface, the text of which consists of three pages filled with horizontal black lines. The text was designed by Klein to parody a traditional introduction and is signed by Klein’s friend, the poet Claude Pascal.
Yves Peintures is both humorous and revolutionary. A mockery of catalogues and their prose, the work might also be a tongue-in-cheek statement about the impossibility of reproducing a work of art and its “aura,” in a post-Benjaminian way, as well as the simple impossibility of painting itself. It is also akin to Klein’s statement about his quest for the immaterial: “Regarding my attempt toward immateriality…it is impossible to provide you with a photograph”. This booklet even defies the notion of authorship and copyright as its plates are found, ready-made colors—ready-made monochromes suggesting that the hand of the artist, Klein’s hand, is unnecessary.
This discreet booklet may hold a notable place in the history of the twentieth century, after Matisse’s cutouts and Duchamp’s Readymades, and delineating what this work predates could just open the door to an entire reconsideration of Klein’s legacy. The text “signed” by Claude Pascal paves the way for Marcel Broodthaers’ A Throw of the Dice Will Never Abolish Chance, published in 1969. Broodthaers’ work is a direct appropriation of the first edition of the French Symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé’s poem of the same name, published in 1914, but with all the words erased and substituted with black lines that correspond to the layout of Mallarmé’s poem. Pictorially, Yves Peintures anticipates generations of artists, from Ellsworth Kelly to Gerhardt Richter and Giulio Paolini, who found in industrial color charts the sources of the ultimate painting, of all possible paintings.
Yves Peintures might very well be the beginning and the end of Klein as a painter. By so early on producing the impossible—non-reproductions of paintings that did not exist—and producing an image of paintings that defy the world of images, he may have felt compelled to move backward in order to move forward and actually paint the monochromes that he brilliantly anticipated. With Yves Peintures, Klein might have gone too fast and too far, too early, for circumstances, postwar France, and the world at large not yet prepared to accept the ultimate conclusion of this booklet.
But both Klein’s and Warhol’s artistic practices encapsulate a quality of this removed production of works: the artist is the impetus, but the art object can be realized by anyone. Warhol embraced this consequence by establishing the Factory. Klein, although he may have been willing to consider a more detached method akin to that which Warhol developed and allow the works to proliferate beyond his direct, literal control, was also acutely aware of the artist’s integral role. The deliberate ways in which Klein positioned and orchestrated his life, art, and the public’s encounters with his work, demonstrated his faith, and at times his humorous faith, in the importance of his position as an inspired genius. Nevertheless, this does not minimize the ways in which he at once furthered the status of the painting as an object and, conversely, attempted to move away from it.
In his writing, Klein articulated how crucial it was for him to remain at a distance from the artistic process. For example, for the Anthropometry paintings, Klein never applied paint directly to the canvas, but instead choreographed and issued instructions to the models, who served as “living brushes” covered with blue pigment (International Klein Blue); the movements of the models’ bodies, rather than Klein’s own hand, activated the canvas. Klein asserted that he refused to dirty his hands in the process, although photographs document that this is not actually the case.
Klein conceived of his work beyond its physicality and as “une peinture post-vue” [post-visual painting]12—works that function on a phenomenological level. Each of his canvases could be understood as a sliver of space made solid. Therefore, the space that truly interested Klein was not delimited by the canvas, but was, in fact, experiential space: “My paintings are ‘pictorial presence.’”13 He was reaching beyond the painting itself, without necessarily, as Lucio Fontana did, physically altering or challenging the basic premises of the medium. Klein never wished, as Joan Miro did, to assassinate painting, which seemed to him an insufficient gesture or, even by this time, an outmoded concern.
As his ambition transcended the traditional parameters of art, Klein’s experimentation reached beyond the medium of painting. He desired to inhabit space literally. His body, as well as that of the viewer, was the center of his cogito, his knowledge. The body for Klein was a permanent condition for the experience of sensory space, an essential manifestation of one’s perceptual openness to the world. As he himself did, he intended for his paintings to leap into space, into the void. Klein established a principle of equivalence between space and the world: “…in my paintings I succeeded in suppressing the space that exists in front of the painting, meaning that the painting’s presence is invading the space of the audience itself.”14 Klein’s conception of his art—perhaps more than the art itself—anticipated and eventually influenced artists such as James Turrell, who have made space, the experience of it, and its condition of perception the core of their aesthetic investigations. As the Italian collector Count Giuseppe Panza di Biumo recalled after visiting Turrell: “There was no object, nothing but a relationship to the sky.”15 This observation evokes a parallel with a small photograph taken by Klein of Le ciel au-dessus de Nice [The Sky Above Nice], which depicts, as the title suggests, the sky above Nice. With this image, which actually seems to contradict the artist’s handwritten statement that “in regard to my attempt at the immaterial…[it is] impossible to give you a photograph”16, Klein anticipated the notion of an art, and eventually a life, emancipated from objecthood. He attempted to capture not only space but also the nature of perception. It is not a nihilistic pursuit, but an attempt to move beyond the pictorial to engage with a purely aesthetic, transcendent experience.
Klein’s attraction to spirituality and mysticism is evidenced in his affiliation with Rosicrucian theories and the Order of the Knights of Saint Sebastian, and his faith in Saint Rita, to whom he dedicated a marvelous votive offering. But one also wonders whether Klein was not more attracted to the rituals, to the theater entrenched within the rituals, than to the religious belief systems themselves. In French, spirituel, which translates into English as spiritual, can signify either involvement with religion and mysticism or being humorous. Klein might just have been both.
As with spirituality, in his painting, Klein was trapped between being the most avant-garde artist of his time and having a residual reluctance to reject tradition. He did not entirely give up painting—but almost. According to Klein, perception goes beyond the tangible world, beyond visual discernment. Perception is being in the world; it is a continuous process that integrates all the senses, the physical as well as the social body. A good example of this tension is the artist’s project Les Cinq Salles [The Five Rooms]. The project, which was never realized, was published in his edition of Dimanche, a faux newspaper that Klein had printed and distributed in Paris on November 27, 1960. In it, Klein observed:
The link between spirit and matter is energy. The combined mechanism of these three elements generates our tangible world, which is claimed to be real but is in fact ephemeral. It is for this reason that for such a long time theater has been spectacle, and we shall emerge from this disaster only if we decide to disregard energy. It is at that moment that extraordinary and extra-dimensional illumination will be accomplished and that one will be directly within spirit and matter, without any intermediaries!17
Klein went on to describe a theatrical installation composed of five rooms. The first would hold nine monochromatic International Klein Blue paintings of identical format; the second would be an empty, immaculately white room; the third would house nine monogolds identical in size to the blue monochromes; the fourth room would be empty and dark, almost black; and the fifth would accommodate nine monopink paintings, identical in size to the blue and gold canvases. The artist then described a scenario in which the audience would be invited to wander through the rooms, dragging balls chained to their ankles.
It seems clear that the purpose of the paintings in this environment is not aesthetic delectation or contemplation. Any aesthetic element seems to be pulled between two poles: the contemplative quality of Mark Rothko’s Chapel, 1964–71, and Warhol’s Shadows, 1978–79, which Warhol himself qualified as décor or disco Rothko.18 The paintings serve as an ambient element to impregnate the viewer with sensibility. Klein intended for viewers, whom he referred to as lecteurs [readers], to be soaked, saturated with “raw matter.”
In his essay “La Sensibilité c’est de l’Enthousiasme Pur” [Sensibility is Pure Enthusiasm], Klein predicted:
…mankind will allow itself to be soaked in raw matter, “sensibility of space” and will then impregnate his sensibility thus space-conditioned, a new human vehicle, with a new immaterial meaning of our body that would have been by then discovered and scientifically studied and will travel in immeasurable space, not by going through it, but by inhabiting it. The new aristocracy will then be composed of humans with strong and pure sensibilities, able to dissolve themselves in the infinite. 19
Writing in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Klein and his vision were perceived as an aberration. He envisaged a nonmaterial world, not necessarily informed by Marxist theory and what would be later developed as the dematerialization of the art object, because he understood intuitively the limits of our traditional system of artistic representation. Did he succeed in freeing himself from these modes? Yes and no. As adamantly as he sought to render his artwork immaterial, to a certain extent objects remained a necessary component to demonstrate his ideas. It was as if Klein were reluctant to meditate without providing traces of his thought process.
Klein expanded beyond painting rather than suppressing it, and his conception of sculpture was dependent upon his desire to make solid immaterial sensibility. Klein’s folding screen allowed color to wrap around the lecteurs. The pink and blue rain, which hang suspended in the middle of the room as if to saturate their surroundings with an element that signifies and defines space, share the same experiential underpinnings. Colors, and specifically his own International Klein Blue, held symbolic value for Klein. Blue was the hue and form of his understanding of nothingness, of the pure immaterial sensibility that radiated from his paintings and sculptures.
In his plan for the installation of Bas-Reliefs dans une forêt d’éponges [Bas-Reliefs in a Forest of Sponges] from 1959, the space was saturated with canvases and sponges. The sponges were positioned as the lecteurs, the ideal viewers, and, due to their own materiality, they stood for “beings soaked in blue pigment,”20 awash in blue immaterial sensibility to the core of their own being. If Klein’s International Klein Blue was the tangible manifestation of immaterial space and sensibility, the impregnated sponges were therefore one with space. The sponges represent the viewer, not just in front of the paintings, but in the middle of the space—at one with the space. Symbolically and pragmatically, the artist chose sponges because they absorb. They can be transfigured.
In his essay “Transfiguration,” Klein described this process:
To transfigure oneself means thinking at every instant about the essence of purity; breathing does the rest; meaning in and on the physical body; it distributes a new life which is imprinted on every single atom and which reconstitutes all the infinitesimal particles of the ordinary physical body into a transfigured body.21
This notion goes back to what the artist called the “new aristocracy of humans”22 who would be able to dissolve themselves in the infinite. It is easy to see why Klein was often labeled a messianic mystic, but this characterization might be a simplistic way of avoiding the true import of his ideas or an opportunity to dismiss his statements as regressive and delusional. In many ways, the immaterial world that Klein perceived and sought to convey does not seem so absurd today, in a time when wireless communication allows us to be, in some sense, present everywhere, with everyone, all the time.
This atomized body is truly at the center of Klein’s work: the first Anthropometry (IKB Godet, 1958) represents the artist’s initial use of “living brushes,” although in this instance, the models’ painted bodies rubbed on the canvas produced a monochrome painting rather than the distinct imprints of bodily form that would come to be so recognizable as Anthropometries; Suaire de Mondo Cane, with its ghostly, translucent medium, shows the bodies being invaded by space. Hiroshima, 1961, dramatically illustrates humans atomically dissolved into the infinite. Hardly a political statement about the bomb, Hiroshima is not Klein’s Guernica23; the painting reveals that the “Blue Revolution” was scientifically possible. Klein’s revolt would not happen in blood, but in blue. He envisaged atomizing the body with perceptive sensibility and space rather than with deadly radioactivity.
Similarly, Klein’s Le Saut dans le vide [Leap into the Void], 1960, has less to do with the history of performance art as we know it than with a conviction that he could levitate, that his body could truly enter space. This gesture, symbolic or not, was not about leaping across the disciplines and challenging the limits of sculpture through the use of the body and its own limits, but was focused on creating a powerful, genuine out-of-body experience.
In an insightful review of B. W. Joseph’s book Beyond the Dream Syndicate,24 Jason Smith discussed the concepts of the “molecular child” and the “molecular interval.” These two ideas are fascinating when considered in relation to Klein. “Molecular child” is borrowed from Gilles Deleuze’s writing about Dziga Vertov and Man with a Movie Camera in Cinema I: The Movement-Image; Deleuze described a constellation of micro perceptions that give birth to the “molecular child,” or the new communist man:
“It is not that Vertov considered beings to be machines, but rather machines which had a ‘heart’ and which ‘revolved, trembled, jolted about and threw out flashes of lightning,’ as man could also do, using other movements and under other conditions, but always in interaction with each other. What Vertov discovered in contemporary life was the molecular child…the material child, as much as systems which are called mechanisms or machines.” 25
Ultimately, Klein’s “Blue Revolution” was not exclusively an aesthetic one, but a social one. Yet it needed to start with the object and aesthetics in order to model his long-term ambition toward a new or at least different society.
The notion of “molecular interval” is borrowed from Carlos Castaneda’s book The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way to Knowledge,26 in which the author described how the absorption of peyote, monitored by a shaman (Don Juan), led him to have an out-of-body experience. Ultimately, Castaneda was learning about the act of perceiving energy directly as it flows in the universe; such a perception, or what he called a “dark sea of awareness,”27 is the culminating pinnacle of shamanism. What Castaneda experienced was the potential for human beings to transcend everything that is known. The shaman’s quest, therefore, is to reach a level of pure energy and become an inorganic being. This journey is a cognitive revolt, striving toward complete freedom. Klein may not have been a shaman, or perhaps he was (as the Italian artist Alighiero e Boetti was once labeled) both a shaman and a showman,28 but his “Blue Revolution,” his blue sea of awareness, was transcendence leading toward the true realization of immaterial being.
Did Klein succeed in freeing himself from artistic and social conventions? I would argue yes, for his most radical achievements lie not at the center of his creative endeavor, but at the periphery. Through his performances, actions, theater, music, film, and architectural works, Klein did free himself, by envisioning a utopian world.
His self-liberation from artistic conventions was made apparent in his essay “Le vide m’appartient” [The Void Belongs to Me], in which he stated: “… from now on I do not wish to say anything anymore, I do not wish to do anything anymore, not even go to the exhibitions I am invited to participate in and I insist my name not be mentioned in catalogues.”29 And in 1959, for an exhibition in Antwerp with Robert Breer, Pol Bury, Heinz Mack, Enzo Mari, Bruno Munari, Mecker, Dieter Rot, Jesus Raphael Soto, Daniel Spoerri, and Jean Tinguely, Klein did not contribute any artworks per se, but merely attended the opening and announced a statement he borrowed from Gaston Bachelard: “First there is nothing, then there is a deep nothing; then there is a blue depth.”30 In so doing, he signified that his presence was enough; simply by being there he had altered the nature of the space with his immaterial senibility. No traditional art object was necessary any longer.
Klein’s most spectacular statement, though, remains his presentation of the void at Galerie Iris Clert the previous year. Titled La Spécialisation de la sensibilité à l’état de matière première en sensibilité picturale stabilisée [The Specialization of Sensibility in the Raw Material State of Stabilized Pictorial Sensibility], the exhibition, which came to be known as Le vide [The Void], comprised an empty white gallery filled with the artist’s sensibility. Klein’s void, if it is even accurate in his case to refer to it as a void—an obscene, absolute emptiness—is grounded more in an Eastern understanding of presence and absence. The artist lived in Japan from 1952 to 1954 and was certainly familiar with Zen Buddhism’s conception of nothingness: an absence that still retains the holistic fullness of potential and absolute awareness. Klein’s sense of the immaterial is therefore less appropriately part of art history’s dematerialization of the art object, as Lucy Lippard has theorized,31 than it is part of a broader, more global history of art and ideas beyond a Western modernist tradition.
However, Klein’s work does continue to be tied to this Western tradition in the sense that he remained essential as artist/author. He did not kill the author, as Roland Barthes would do. Therefore, one must ask if it would even be possible to re-install Le vide for an Yves Klein exhibition. I believe it would be impossible, as Klein, the artist, would need to be present in the room to fill it with his immaterial sensibility, to install the state of absolute awareness—an absolute awareness that the walls of the gallery could not contain but could retain. Klein’s conception of art, of his painting and performance, as well as immaterial sensibility, defied language as much as it challenged the conventions of the traditional exhibition. The most accurate articulation of Klein’s creative process and intentions might be the French poet Charles Estienne’s cris bleus [blue cries].
When Klein asked Estienne to produce cris bleus in 1957, he was certainly aware of the experimentation of François Dufrêne and his Crirythmes, a form of sound poetry that defies the implicit structure and rules of verbal communication. Klein was also aware of Antonin Artaud’s theatrical defiance of the status quo, as when Artaud recorded Conférence de la Sorbonne in 1933, and of the power of the poet’s voice in Pour en finir avec le jugement de Dieu [To Have Done with the Judgment of God], in which Artaud cries, screams, grunts, and uses onomatopoeia as his means of utterance. Produced for French National Radio in 1947, Artaud’s performance was immediately censured in 1948.
Klein’s work resonates with Artaud’s defiance of the complacency of conventional theater; Klein’s 1959 text “Le dépassement de la problématique de l’art” [Overcoming the Problematics of Art], might have been his way of echoing Artaud’s voice. In Le Théâtre et son double [The Theatre and Its Double], 1938, and, in particular, the essay “The Theater of Cruelty,” published in this volume, Artaud exposed theater to multiple modes of expression and scenic elements, including sound, color, screams, and movements, in order to bring the audience fully into the action, to be physically affected by it—changes he deemed necessary to empower theater to remain relevant beyond the mere spectacle.
In “Theater of the Void,” published in Dimanche32, Klein outlined his own theory, in which he emphasized that theater could no longer be synonymous with representation or spectacle. Klein’s theater was a spectacle enacted without actors, without stage design, without a stage, without an author, without an audience. The theater of the future was, for Klein, an empty room: the theater of the void. The only time that truly matters is the time of the theater experience; the only character of import is the spectator. The theater is its own reality, as the monochromes are their own reality. Klein believed that in the history of dramatic experimentation, only Artaud sensed the coming of what he was proposing.
In Dimanche, nevertheless, the artist went on to outline a series of theater projects ranging from hiring passersby as actors but not asking them to do anything besides just sit, unnoticed, amidst the crowd while the audience was in the theater. The theater would be closed the night of the “premiere.”
Another project, Sensibilité pure [Pure Sensibility], consisted of chaining spectators to their chairs and eventually gagging them during the presentation as a security measure. The curtain would rise with an acoustic “monotonous inundation.” The stage, white, with curved corners, would remain empty. Then beautiful girls, nude or in bikinis, would mingle with the male spectators while handsome, naked men would attend the female audience members. After the first half hour, the fizzing sound would fade. Another half hour would pass in absolute silence, during which the spectators would stare at the empty stage. Then the curtain would lower and the audience would be freed.
Before the proposed stage experimentations outlined in Dimanche, Klein had in 1954 also completed a series of monochromatic watercolors, Monochromes jaune, rouge, et vert (scène de théâtre) [Yellow, Red, and Green Monochromes (Theater Scene)] and Monochrome rouge (scène de théâtre) [Red Monochrome (Theater Scene)], which were to be installed on theater stages rather than on walls, disrupting the conventions of both exhibitions and theater, suggesting that painting and artists have fallen in the realm of spectacle and entertainment; thus Klein anticipated Guy Debord’s La Société du Spectacle [The Society of Spectacle], 1967, by thirteen years.
In many ways, Klein’s conception of theater as the location of social order was akin to the German playwright Bertolt Brecht’s. Klein used the stage to blur the lines between public and private, spectator and author, contemplative passivity and active engagement. For both Brecht and Klein, theater had very little to do with spectacle or with institutions where one can witness rows upon rows of people “transported” in a largely inert state, victims of their own emotions. Klein strove to abolish the traditional notion of stage, and, therefore, anticipated the experimental performance art that flourished in the 1960s and 1970s. It is difficult not to recall the premeditated absurdity of Fluxus performances under the oversight of George Maciunas or Ben Vautier: trapping audiences inside or outside of a theater; transporting the spectators in a bus deep into a forest. It is also difficult to look at Klein’s scènes de théâtre without thinking about the infamous “frustrating happening”33 staged by the collective Buren Mosset Parmentier Toroni (BMPT) in the auditorium of the Musée des Art Décoratifs in Paris on June 2, 1967. After inviting the audience to a happening, the four artists left the attendees facing four canvases displayed on the stage. This disavowal of what it meant to engage with art, as well as the established rituals associated with art salons, exhibitions, openings, and socializing, as well as the mores attached to theatrical performances, resonates with Klein’s attempts to antagonize and evade artistic and societal conventions throughout the seven years of his creative production.
While Klein first conceived of his Symphonie Monoton-Silence [Monotone-Silence Symphony] in 1947, he did not actually transcribe the piece, which consists of one note sustained by the orchestra for twenty minutes followed by twenty minutes of silence, until 1961. Despite coming from vastly different backgrounds, Klein and the American composer John Cage (1912–92) both opened many doors musically and philosophically, offering a radical re-envisioning of music and the experience of listening. For Cage, silence was about the desire to replace mastery, to let go of the control embedded in verbal or musical communication in favor of an open-ended play of ideas. His silence was a form of resistance, and his 1950 essay “Lecture on Nothing” might find some commonality with Klein’s “Theater of the Void.” Cage’s silence opposed the status quo of dominant culture, as did Klein’s symphony and his monochromes.
Cage’s most groundbreaking and provocative legacy is the belief, implicit in his work, that music cannot be separated from other sound; it is a continuous presence in our environment, and it is listening and perception that are intermittent. Art is everywhere, and it is up to us to capture it. While working on his film One, 1992, an abstract meditation on light and shadow, Cage declared: “I look forward to the pleasure of seeing a film that does not have a plot, doesn’t have characters, which has, so to speak, nothing.”34 This notion is not far from Klein’s ideas about painting with no narrative, theater with no plot, music with no melodic progression.
Klein’s Symphonie Monoton-Silence also holds a place in the history of avant-garde minimal music, which later included, among others, the Theater of Eternal Music, a mid-1960s musical collective formed by La Monte Young, which included John Cale, Angus MacLise, Terry Jennings, Marian Zazeela, Tony Conrad, and Billy Name. This group focused on experimental drone music and the sensory saturation of uniformity, and was stylistically linked to the neo-Dada concepts and aesthetics of Fluxus and John Cage’s oeuvre. Theater of Eternal Music experimented with an aesthetic immersion in constant sound, sustaining one note for hours, allowing musician and audience to reach a state of transcendence induced by pure resonance. In Klein’s Symphonie Monoton-Silence, time no longer flows, it no longer accomplishes anything; the moment defies the notion of continuity.
Envisioning performance outside the confines of traditional spectacle, Klein conceived of a project called Capture du vide [Capture of the Void],35 for which an entire city or country would serve as the stage. At a designated hour, the population would be invited to return home, and the outside world would be left empty, void, silenced for two hours—but not necessarily silent, just devoid of human noises, thus naturally incorporating ambient urban and natural sounds into the project. After two hours, Klein proposed that he would be thrown alone into this vacant world, thereby being made aware of an environment free of people. The artist’s experience would then serve as a measure of the absence of human presence, addressing directly the deep impact people have on the world and on nature. Klein’s scenario is echoed by writer Alan Weisman’s recently published book The World Without Us,36 a study of humanity’s effect on the environment and the planet, which ultimately explores a world free of the burden of human civilization. Klein’s interest in this subject is underscored in his unpublished essay “Naturométrie” [Naturometry],37 and another controversially titled “Je raserai tout à la surface de la terre” [I Will Raze Everything at the Surface of the Earth].38 The artist needed to appropriate the world to accomplish his ambition and “Blue Revolution.” Klein’s aesthetic program, which could not be contained by galleries or theaters, could be viewed as a global, environmental one, and his conception of immaterial sensibility, if applied to the world around us, could be brought to bear on one of the most crucial debates of our time: the environmental crisis and humanity’s impact on nature.
Extending his explorations to the planetary level in his Cosmogonies series, he focused on earth and its elements. By capturing wind and rain on a canvas tied to the roof of his car, by painting a globe, by casting planetary reliefs, Klein filled the universe with sensibility, beyond the confines and expectations of what had long been considered the art object. In 1961, Italian artist Piero Manzoni created Socle du Monde [Base of the World], a large square pedestal on which is inscribed, upside down, the work’s title. That same year, in the same way that Klein had signed the sky in Nice in 1947, Manzoni signed “human sculptures,” thereby transforming the people of the earth and, by extension, the entire world into a sculpture. Every aspect, each nook and each worm, human and nonhuman, was, from that point on, a Manzoni sculpture.
Yet Klein’s Cosmogonies are slightly different. Manzoni, as radical as his gesture was, remained within the framework of art. Klein’s vision extended beyond. He did not seek to turn the whole world into art with works such as his Cosmogonies. It was about embracing perception in the spirit of John Cage, a continuous, timeless awareness of and engagement with pure sensibility, liberated from materiality—a pure aesthetic experience of the world. It was an experience that would lead Klein toward the most complex aspects of his work: his research dedicated to architecture de l’air [air architecture], urban design, and social renewal. Earth, wind (or air), and fire were the primary materials of his architectural explorations, illustrated by hundreds of sketches and plans, articulated in many essays, reaching beyond classical architecture to involve movement, from sketches and a model for a self-propelled pneumatic rocket, to aeromagnetic sculptures and self-levitating tubes (developed with Jean Tinguely), which, using the passage of air and hydrogen, would levitate, defying gravity, resolving the problem of sculpture requiring a pedestal or support, and could possibly be applied to architecture.39 For several years, with architects Werner Ruhnau and Claude Parent and designer Roger Tallon, the artist investigated the possibilities of immaterial architecture, such as roofs and walls made of air, which would regulate the temperature, and, at the same time, protect interiors, as well as designs for creating public plazas organized around fountains of fire and water.
In 1969, architecture critic Reyner Banham wrote a revolutionary essay titled “The Architecture of the Well-Tempered Environment“ in which he articulated the importance for architecture in reconciling human needs, environmental matters, and technological progress. He stressed the importance of environmental engineering in architecture and design and strongly advocated for the strategic use of natural energy, such as solar power, when planning a building. His concern beyond human comfort demonstrated a sense of civic responsibility at a time of growing anxiety about the depletion of Earth’s energy resources and the pollution of the biosphere. His research was not motivated by the utopian vision of Klein, but perhaps only because Klein belonged to another time when energy and environment were not yet recognized to be in crisis. Yet Klein somehow anticipated a discourse that is now central to our culture. Living with no traces, leaving no traces, no carbon footprint.
Klein was extremely committed to air architecture and, according to his lecture at the Sorbonne on June 3, 1959, titled “L’evolution de l’art vers l’immatérial” [The Evolution of Art Toward the Immaterial],40 it was the pinnacle of his aesthetic investigation. He even corresponded with architect Philip Johnson, who collected Klein’s artwork, comparing their ideas and architectural projects41, although Klein eventually complained that Johnson “borrowed” his idea for a fountain of water and fire that the architect planned to have built at the 1964 New York World’s Fair.42
Klein also exchanged letters in 1960 with the Mexican sculptor, painter, architect, and poet Mathias Goeritz. Goeritz is primarily known for his concrete Towers of Ciudad Satélite, built in Mexico City in collaboration with architect Luis Barragan, the aesthetic of which seems to match Klein’s desire to “raze everything on the surface of Earth, until it is flat and fill valleys with mountains and then pour concrete all over the continents.”43 Goeritz was interested in publishing an article on Klein in the magazine Arquitectura. In a fascinating letter, Goeritz explained that he believed Klein’s work was the antidote to nihilistic individuals and that it went beyond Nouveau Réalisme, offering the possibility of a new metaphysical framework.44 This exchange and Goeritz’s interest in Klein’s work demonstrates the influence of the artist’s thinking beyond his artistic outputs, and the ways in which his ideas not only challenged prevailing notions of what constituted art, but also extended to the world of experimental architecture and experimental lifestyle.
As visionary as Klein’s ideas were, with links to Antonio Sant’Elia’s Futurist architecture and even resonating with Hans Scharoun and Bruno Taut’s utopian visions, architecture, for Klein, was a conduit, a stage leading to a more ambitious, holistic project:
The architecture of air has in our minds always been just a transitional stage, but today we present it as a means for the climatization of geographical spaces.
The principle of privacy, still present in our world, has vanished in this city, which is bathed in light and completely open to the outside.
A new atmosphere of human intimacy prevails.
The inhabitants live in the nude.
The primitive patriarchal structure of the family no longer exists.
The community is perfect, free, individualistic, impersonal.
The principal activity of the inhabitants: leisure. 45
Klein’s “Blue Revolution” was no longer merely focused on art or aesthetics. He dreamt of a new society, and his art—the monochromes, sponges, Fire Paintings, and so on—were the vehicle for his vision, mock-ups of a better world, or at least a different one. Klein had some knowledge of the subversive Situationist and Lettrist milieu, and his “Project for an Architecture of Air” demonstrates his connection with the polemical ideas developed by the Dutch artist Constant, the architect of the Situationists. Constant developed New Babylon, a minutely detailed utopian plan for the city of the future. He sought to formulate a new urbanism, detailed through countless drawings, models, sketches, collages, essays, manifestos, conferences, and films, striving to erode conventional social structures.
New Babylon envisioned a society in which the need to work would be replaced with the creative play of interacting desires; it would be a place where traditional architecture would disintegrate alongside the social institutions that had supported it for so long. In Constant’s plans, a network of immense, multi-level interior spaces proliferate, covering the planet. These interconnected subdivisions were to float above the ground.
Klein was certainly thinking along the same lines at a time, the late 1950s, when a spirit of revolution was in the air. The world was shaking itself out of the postwar atmosphere and freeing itself from outdated modes, many of which would not survive the revolutionary moments to come in the 1960s and 1970s. Klein’s philosophical notions and artistic practice certainly played a role in these changes; when he declared, “I will raze everything at the surface of Earth,” he was speaking, at least in part, about obsolete values, models, and ways of thinking.
Klein’s work is a project for a revolution phrased with his own means and language, pigments, canvases, sponges. It might be viewed as comparable with the way in which Nouveau Roman was conceived as a literary form, rejecting the protocols of traditional novels articulated around plot, action, and characters. Nouveau Roman brought forward a concept of the novel predicated on things, objects, and material details rather than a meta-narrative. Klein was interrogating painting, and art in general, in a similarly revolutionary way. In notes written on December 27, 1954, he observed:
I believe that in the future one will get to painting only paintings of one color at a time and without anything other than color…. In literature there might be a way to get to the same point…a funny novel without plot, without closure, without subject, without message, and only with an atmosphere, a feeling of the same quality, very regular, profound and unified….46
This statement parallels what Alain Robbe-Grillet described in Pour Un Nouveau Roman [For a Nouveau Roman]47 as the future of the novel beyond naturalism, fantasy, and metaphysics, embracing a new form of realism freed from the cult of humanism, less anthropocentric, without protagonists or linear narrative. This kind of novel would offer a “hole in the narrative,” no longer a representation or record of reality outside of itself, but a reality all its own. This is a new realism in the same way that Klein’s monochrome paintings puncture a hole in the pictorial tradition.
One of the most iconic examples of Nouveau Roman is Alain Robbe-Grillet’s Project for a Revolution in New York City, published in 1970; an uneventful novel, a flat plot comprising a succession of erotic, sadistic details unfolding in a urban landscape where intimacy appears to be obsolete, in a city doomed to be erased from the surface of earth. This text resonates with Klein’s idea of painting as a restrictive medium that he could overcome—a traditional art form that could give way to the pursuit of a critical means to represent the possibility of a different world.
Klein’s embracing of a revolutionary spirit is further demonstrated in the letter he sent to Fidel Castro, applauding the “success of [Castro’s] revolutionary enterprise,”48 and complimenting his courage, honesty, and audacity, as well as conveying the artist’s own revolutionary views.
Klein was a paradox, as was his time. In terms of revolutionary architecture, the mid- to late 1950s witnessed another project dedicated to a better collective future, a visionary plan that had nothing to do with International Situationism or Communism—Tomorrowland and Disneyland. Klein visited Disneyland in 1961 and experienced firsthand Walt Disney’s utopian vision. But even if Klein and Disney’s dreams of urban planning appear similar, Disney was inspired by the very American model of a small town main street, yet, influenced by recent scientific and technological innovations, he was also fascinated by an optimistic view of a comforting yet space-age future. Klein’s revolution was neither technological nor political but, rather, aesthetic, ethical, and spiritual. Most importantly, it was for real; although more abstract in nature, Klein’s “Blue Revolution” was as rational as the artist was himself a realist. To emphasize this reality, Klein wrote that “the theory of immaterialization denies the spirit of science fiction.”49
The “Blue Revolution” was not a fantastical, disembodied dream for some possible future, but was grounded in the potential for change that Klein recognized in the present. The artist’s revolutionary vision is summed up in his 1961 painting Architecture de l’Air [Air Architecture], which encompasses the most salient aspects of the artist’s work: the molecular bodies of the Anthropometries floating in space; International Klein Blue; the framework for an Eden encompassing urban landscapes, and a manifesto:
Air conditioning on the surface of our globe.
The technical and scientific conclusion of our civilization is buried in the
depths of the earth and ensures
the absolute control of the Climate
on the surface of all the continents
which have become vast
communal living rooms.
It is a sort of return to the garden of Eden of the legend (1951).
The advent of a new society destined
to undergo deep transformations
in its very condition itself. Intimacy, both personal
and in the family, will disappear. An impersonal
ontology will be developed.
The willpower of Man will at last regulate life
on a constantly “wonderful” level.
Man is so free
His occupation: leisure.
The obstacles that
traditional architecture used to put up with
will be eliminated.
Body care will occur through new methods,
such as “The air bed.” 50
Freedom—this is the ultimate Klein, complete with all his contradictions. The quest to be free is for Klein, who wrote that “being satisfied is mediocre,”51 the impulse toward—the leap toward—uncertain yet pivotal possibilities.
Klein’s “Blue Revolution” was, and is, a nondenominational one. His revolution is of the same blood as Deleuze’s molecular child, stimulated by continuous immaterial sensibility, so subtly nuanced yet expansive that no single essay or exhibition can truly capture its significance. This is the paradox of Yves Klein’s work. As beautiful, startling, and convincing as this or any retrospective may be, it only makes visible the ashes of his artistic process. The true artwork is everywhere around us, in rain and wind and cockroaches52 and fire, from Saint Rita to the entire atmosphere, in everything that Klein penetrated and re-imagined through his creative process.
Thus, to respect Klein’s desire to enter space and immaterial sensibility, the only viable retrospective of the artist’s work could be conceived as follows: select the most beautiful and striking of his works in private and public collections; bring them, even if at great expense, to your institution; install them with as much care as if the future of art was at stake; then close the galleries to the public for forty-eight hours; de-install the exhibition and return all the pieces to their owners; open the empty, pristine galleries to visitors; only if it seems necessary, broadcast Charles Estienne’s cris bleus in the galleries, which are by this point emancipated from art objects, but saturated with the essence of infinite space, immaterial sensibility, possibility. The viewers would then experience “les plein pouvoirs” [the full powers]53 of their own awareness, and the exhibition would amaze the vision, although not the eyes. As the final touch, serve methylene blue cocktails, the same Klein served at his openings, which make one’s urine blue for twenty-four hours. The spectators would enter the world pregnant with Klein’s “Blue Revolution,” which they would then spread, making the world blue.
This would be marvelous. It will happen, one day; the day we will able to admit collectively that the world is, as Yves Klein discovered, “flat and square.”54 Then the exhibition would not be measured in terms of success or failure, because it would be immeasurable. Until the day when society at large is ready truly to encounter Klein’s radical concepts, until we truly understand that the world of ideas can exist beyond material manifestations and traces, we, and art and social institutions, will remain incomplete, and Yves Klein will continue to be misunderstood. Yet this misunderstanding might actually expose possibilities, for definitive comprehension often blinds one from truly seeing, from fully welcoming the mystery and power of immaterial sensibility and accepting the transformation of our very notion of the nature and meaning of art.
Let’s not forget that when Albert Camus wrote in 1958 “Avec le vide, les pleins pouvoirs” [With the void, full powers], he was not only assessing aesthetic powers, but also was commenting on General de Gaulle’s seizing constitutional full power in an attempt to resolve a conflict away from home—the Algerian War. With his full power came the beginning of a social revolution, and, ultimately, the end of an era. We hope our Klein “Blue Revolution,” starting in Washington, could today again signify a change beyond the walls of the museum.
Special thanks to Deborah Horowitz and Caitlin Woolsey for their assistance with this essay.
Paul Valéry, “The Conquest of Ubiquity,” in The Collected Works of Paul Valéry, vol. 13, Aesthetics, ed. Jackson Mathews (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1956), 225.
Yves Klein, “Overcoming the Problematics of Art,” 47, and “The Monochrome Adventure,” 143, in Overcoming the Problematics of Art: The Writings of Yves Klein, ed. and trans. Klaus Ottmann (Putnam, CT: Spring Publications, 2007) [hereinafter YKW].
Interview with Rotraut Klein-Moquay by the author, 2004.
Paul Eluard, Shadows and Sun/Ombres et Soleil: Poems and Prose (1913–1952), trans. C. Buckley (Durham, NH: Oyster River Press, 1995).
Yves Klein, Classeur Mon Livre, Yves Klein Archives.
Yves Klein, 1957–1958: Je peins d’apres modele, Yves Klein Archives.
Yves Klein, “La Loi Originale du Sujet Connaissant,” in Classeur Mon Livre.
Yves Klein, journal entry, Saturday, 7 [September] 1957, in YKW, 14.
Yves Klein, journal entry, Friday, 23 August 1957, in YKW, 13.
Klein, Classeur Mon Livre.
Klein, “The Monochrome Adventure,” in YKW, 141.
Klein, “La Loi Originale du Sujet Connaissant.”
Klein, Classeur Mon Livre.
Quoted in Daniel Birnbaum, “Eyes,” Magazin 3 (Stockholm, 1995).
Yves Klein, “Dialogue avec moi-même.” This title was assigned posthumously in 1983 to a tape-recorded stream of consciousness Klein documented in his apartment in Paris. See YKW, 207, which follows the transcription made by Marie-Anne Sichère and Didier Semin.
Yves Klein, “Selections from ‘Dimanche’: Five Rooms,” in YKW, 115–16.
Warhol wanted to have Shadows installed as a décor in the nightclub Studio 54 during the heyday of disco music in New York.
Klein, Classeur Mon Livre.
Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, 1937, representing the bombing of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War.
Jason Smith, “Minor Keys: Jason Smith on Branden W. Joseph’s Beyond the Dream Syndicate,” Artforum XLVII, no. 2 (October 2008), 89.
Gilles Deleuze, Cinema I: The Movement-Image, trans. by Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986), 39.
Carlos Castaneda, The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way to Knowledge (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1969).
Castaneda, The Teachings of Don Juan.
Annemarie Sauzeau Boetti and Alighiero e Boetti, Alighiero e Boetti: Shaman—Showman (Cologne: Walther Konig, 2004).
Klein, Classeur Mon Livre.
Klein quoted Bachelard often, including reading aloud a segment from Bachelard’s Air and Dreams (chap. 6, “The Blue Sky”), in which he describes the blue depths of the sky, during his speech to the Gelsenkirchen Opera House Commission in 1958. Klein again quoted this line in his text “Overcoming the Problematics of Art.” See YKW, 41 and 56.
Lucy R. Lippard, Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972 (New York: Praeger, 1973).
Klein, “Selections from ‘Dimanche’: The Theater of the Void,” in YKW, 101–05.
As Marcel Duchamp, who attended the event, labeled it.
John Cage in conversation with Henning Lohner in Writings Through John Cage’s Music, Poetry, and Art (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 290.
Klein, “Selections from
‘Dimanche’: Capture of the Void,” in YKW, 107–08.
Alan Weisman, The World Without Us (New York: Picador), 2007.
Yves Klein, “Naturométrie,” in Classeur Mon Livre.
Yves Klein, “Je raserai tout à la surface de la terre,” unpublished essay, Yves Klein Archives. In this essay, Klein writes: “I will raze everything at the surface of Earth, until it is flat. I will fill the valleys with mountains, then I would pour concrete all over the continent….” If exploring Klein’s influence on American art, one might consider Michael Heizer’s monumental, ongoing Earthwork, The City, in light of this statement by Klein.
“Yves Klein has been seeking already for a number of years, at the fringes of his monochrome work, to free sculpture from its pedestal.” Excerpt from typewritten document, Yves Klein Archives, trans. Klaus Ottmann.
See YKW, 72–98.
Yves Klein, Letter to Philip Johnson, April 10, 1959, Yves Klein Archives.
Yves Klein, Letter to Philip Johnson, October 2, 1961, Yves Klein Archives.
Klein, Classeur Mon Livre.
“In the following issues [of ARQUITECTURA] I would like to also have articles on Tinguely, Armand, and Hains. Maybe you can help me—I would be really grateful. Personally I am ‘against’ their art, but I do not doubt that—in the general confusion of life today—they are the most ‘advanced’ and most interesting artists of the present moment. Unfortunately, I no longer believe in art as an expression of nihilistic individuality—the negativity itself they advance is in the long run too boring, and only the declaration of the ‘Rights of God’ can save the situation of modern humanity from its profound spiritual poverty—with all its logic of the ‘Right of Man.’ The current art is an expression of this splendid misery. Your work goes further. The monochrome has nothing to do with the ‘new realism’ of others because it possesses the possibility of a metaphysical spirit. It is perhaps the ultimate metaphysical picture. Enough for now! Excuse my language mistakes. My best wishes to you! Warm regards—Mathias Goeritz.” Pages two and three of Mathias Goeritz, letter to Yves Klein, July 7, 1960, Yves Klein Archives, trans. Klaus Ottmann.
Yves Klein and Werner Ruhnau, “Project for an Architecture of Air,” in YKW, 174–75.
Klein, Classeur Mon Livre.
Alain Robbe-Grillet, Pour un Nouveau Roman (Paris: Les Editions de Minuit, 1961).
“Dear Mr. Castro, It is with enthusiasm that we have observed, unfortunately from afar, the success of your revolutionary enterprise by virtue of your courage, audacity, and honesty for a better collective life that is free of corruption to the greatest degree possible. With all our wishes for a complete and total success, we have enclosed the result of our own work, which we think will be of interest to you. These are ideas that have emerged out of our active group of artists, architects, and researchers of all kinds. We are seeking solutions to the issues and problems of collective collaboration.” Yves Klein, letter to Fidel Castro, 1958, Yves Klein Archives, trans. Klaus Ottmann.
Klein and Ruhnau, “Project for an Architecture of Air,” 174–75.
Yves Klein, manifesto inscribed on the painting Architecture de l’air, Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo. Translated in Yves Klein: Air Architecture, eds. Peter Noever and François Perrin (Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz, 2004), 85.
Klein, “Dialogue avec moi-même,” in YKW, 204.
Yves Klein invented a board game based on cockroach races, wherein he designed tracks, organized betting evenings, and documented these events with photographs.
When writer Albert Camus visited Klein’s exhibition Le vide at Iris Clert’s gallery in 1958, in the guestbook he wrote: “Avec le vide, les pleins pouvoirs” [With the void, full powers].
“The Earth is Flat and Square” is the heading of one section of Klein’s essay “The Monochrome Adventure,” in YKW, 162.
First published in the exhibition catalogue Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers, available in the Walker Shop.