Progression of Art
This is one of Klein's first monochromes featuring International Klein Blue. He reported that, at the age of nineteen, he looked up at the sky and realized the infinite, immaterial space surrounding the universe. To depict his vision, he chose to use only one color, a vibrant shade of ultramarine, which he later perfected for use with the aid of chemists. The painting contains no trace of line or imagery, encouraging the viewer to immerse herself in the color alone and to experience its evocations. Symbolic, perhaps, of the sky and the sea, it also had resonances in Klein's own religion, Catholicism, as not only a symbol of the Holy Ghost, but also as the shade traditionally used in the depiction of the Virgin Mary's robes in Renaissance paintings.
Dry pigment in synthetic polymer medium on cotton over plywood - Museum of Modern Art, New York
To further his artistic vision of the immaterial, Klein created Le Vide (The Void), removing everything from the Iris Clert Gallery except for an empty cabinet. Klein also created a dramatic entrance for the opening ceremony, in which visitors were welcomed into the empty room. Regarding the work Klein stated, "My paintings are now invisible and I would like to show them in a clear and positive manner..." Although the stunt might be read as part of Klein's ongoing interest in mysticism and "the void," like much of his work it might also be read in a slightly contradictory manner, as a political attack on the traditional art object and the gallery system that supports it.
Installation with cabinet - Displayed at the Iris Clert Gallery, Paris
Le Saut dans le Vide (Leap into the Void)
This controversial photomontage was constructed by Klein by collaging his falling body onto an image of a street. From a young age, he had stated that he possessed the power to levitate, here, we see him attempting to defy gravity. The physicality of the performance might have been inspired in part by Klein's judo training, but it might equally have been inspired by his attitudes to earlier artistic evocations of what he regarded as "the void." Speaking of a still life by the Russian Suprematist Kazimir Malevich, he once wrote, "Malevich was actually standing before the infinite - I am in it. You don't represent or produce it - you are it."
Photograph by Harry Shunk; performance by Yves Klein at Rue Gentil-Bernard, Fontenay-aux-Roses, France - Originally published in Dimanche - Le Journal d'un Seul Jour by Yves Klein
Venus Bleue (Blue Venus)
Here, Klein applies his signature International Klein Blue to a plaster cast of the famous Venus de Milo sculpture, pushing the monochrome into the three-dimensional field and establishing a relationship between the infinite cosmos and the human form. By appropriating the famous Greek sculpture and painting it IKB, Klein gives the dated masterpiece a kind of kitsch, commercial appeal, making it a precursor to Pop art (as Klein was at first an enthusiastic member of France's Pop movement, the Nouveau Realistes.) But the piece also prefigured his use of live nude women to create his Anthropometries series.
Pigment on plaster - Edition of 300
Relief eponge or (RE 47 II)
Although Klein is best known for his blue monochromes, he also used gold and red, which, together with blue, he regarded as representing the theological mystery of the Trinity. In this and related pieces, Klein used gold to direct the public to the cosmos; he believed that gold was symbolic of the absolute, divinity, and infinite space. Here he moves beyond the flat surface of a canvas by attaching a natural sea sponge and earthy pebbles to create a textured relief. The gritty quality, resembling a cratered planet, might also be intended to evoke the surface of the moon.
Sponges, pebbles and gold leaf on panel - Private Collection
Anthropométrie sans titre
After concentrating on the monochrome canvases, Klein made a new departure with his signature IKB color, using nude models as his brush. In the Anthropometries series, he covered nude females in blue paint and had them press, drag, and lay themselves across canvases to create bodily impressions. The piece was inspired in part by photographs of body-shaped burn-marks on the earth, which were caused by the atomic explosions at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Klein crafted this idea into a performance piece, hosting a formal event where guests observed the nude models executing the piece. Although the events could be at times comic and bizarre, the resulting pictures represent a fresh and vivid approach to the idea of figurative painting, and one darkly influenced by the threat of the Cold War.
Oil on canvas on paper, resin - Musée Cantini, Marseille,France