Yves Klein

born 1928 in Nice, France; died 1962 in Paris, France

Biography

Son of artist parents

1944–46 École nationale des langues orientales

From 1947 on Judo training in Paris; close friendship with Claude Pascal and Arman (Armand Fernandez)

1948 Begins working as an artist, producing first monotypes; joins Rosicrucian Fellowship (member until 1952)

1949–1952 Lives in England with Claude Pascal and works as a gilder; spends six months exploring Ireland, followed by further travels through Europe and to Japan, where he studies at the Kodokan judo institute in Tokyo and takes his exam for fourth dan; draws inspiration from Zen Buddhism

1954 Technical director and teacher in Spain’s national judo federation

1955 Returns to Paris and applies unsuccessfully to join the Salon des réalités nouvelles; friendship with Pierre Restany

1957 First anthropometries

1958/59 Only public commission – a large ensemble of sponge reliefs for the music theater in Gelsenkirchen

1960 Cofounder of the group Nouveaux Réalistes, whose first (1960) and second (1961) manifestos he signs

Visual Arts

Visual Arts

With painting as his starting point, Yves Klein extended the idea of art into almost every media in a way that was well-nigh visionary. His varied oeuvre, produced in only eight years, combined elements of performance, body art, and happening, anticipating the approaches of conceptual art and providing stimuli that had a sustained impact.

Klein believed that as an artist he had the ability to disseminate »sensibility« in material and immaterial form and use this to enable participation in »life itself.«

He saw color as »sensibility in material form« and initially painted monochrome images in orange, red, white, yellow, violet, green, and gold. Between 1957 and 1959 he reduced his palette to lightfast ultramarine blue and collaborated with a chemist to develop a special binder – Rhodopas, a polyvinyl acetate – which retained the granularity of the pure pigment together with the luminosity and saturation of the intense blue color. In 1960 he had this discovery patented as IKB (International Klein Blue). Thereafter, he would soak sponges in IKB, which he saw as an embodiment of impregnation with a »sensibility« bound to color. He produced monochromatic blue pictures, sponge reliefs, and objects. In 1959, Klein began complementing blue with gold and pink to create a color trilogy, which he used for individual works in pure monochrome.

His first anthropometry was produced in 1957: in performances at Klein’s studio and in front of gallery audiences, naked bodies – predominantly female – that had been covered with IKB became living brushes, leaving imprints of their physical form smeared in paint on canvas and paper.

In 1958 Klein organized an exhibition and opening performance at the Iris Clert Gallery that becomes known as Le Vide (The Void). However, he actually claimed in his capacity as an artist to have filled the vacant space with »sensibility in the state of prime matter« – i.e., in immaterial form. As with the sponges soaked in paint, those present could be impregnated by this immaterial sensibility. Subsequently, as part of a special ritual, he even sold this sensibility in exchange for pure gold (half of which he then threw in the Seine).

In 1960 Klein jumped audaciously from a window and published a photo of this »leap into the void« on the cover of his »one-day newspaper« Dimanche (Sunday).

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At the tender age of nineteen, Klein declared the sky above Nice to be his first artwork. He signed it in his imagination but considered the birds a nuisance.

Klein was described as a spiritual person. Influenced by the Catholic rituals of his childhood, he was fascinated by the doctrine of self-redemption and delved into the mythic Christian teachings of the Rosicrucians and into Zen Buddhism.

In keeping with Zen, his concepts of the void – creating a space of emptiness and his own leap into the void – can be seen not as an immersion in nothingness but rather as a plunge into the full abundance of life. It implies the equality of body and spirit, material and immaterial.

From early on, Klein actively fostered the construction of his own myth and viewed his life and work as an inseparable unity. His Catholic wedding with Rotraut Uecker on January 21, 1962, which he planned in great detail, was performed, as it were, as a lived enactment of his artistic convictions.

Author: Doris Leutgeb

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Music

Music

Klein’s only music composition for orchestra has attained tremendous significance in the history of art and music. He conceived his Monotone-Silence Symphony in 1947 and premiered it on March 9, 1960, as part of an anthropometry at the Galerie Internationale in Paris, and in 1961 it was transcribed in collaboration with composer Louis Saguer. It consists of a single sustained chord that is to reverberate in the concentrated silence that follows – no duration is fixed for either the chord or the silence, but they should be of the same length.

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As a young man, Klein played piano in Nice in Claude Luter’s jazz band. He wrote the song »Viens avec moi dans le vide« (Come with Me into the Void; music composed by Hans-Martin Majewski) for his wife Rotraut, sister of Günther Uecker. Its text was printed on November 27, 1960, in Klein’s newspaper Dimanche, which appeared in a single edition published on Rotraut’s twenty-second birthday.

Author: Doris Leutgeb

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In the Exhibition

In the Exhibition

Yves Klein

Symphonie Monoton-Silence / Monoton-Silence Symphony, 1947/1959

San Francisco, Grace Cathedral, 12. 1. 2017, Orchestra and Choir conducted by Petr Kotik, 41:19 min

Film: Daniel Lichtenberg, Slow Clap Productions © Yves Klein Estate / Levy Gorvy Gallery, New York

On January 12, 2017, a performance of Klein’s Monotone-Silence Symphony organized by the Lévy Gorvy Gallery and the Yves Klein Archives was staged at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. Petr Kotík directed the large orchestral setting envisaged by Klein, consisting of two alternating choirs, ten violins and ten cellos and three double basses, three flutes, three oboes, and three horns.

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Klein’s Monotone-Silence Symphony was performed at mumok in June 2007. As part of a major Yves Klein retrospective organized in conjunction with the Centre Pompidou and the Yves Klein Archives, a version by Christian Utz was played, adapted for shō (mouth organ), shakuhachi (flute), string trio, two bass clarinets, percussion, and eight voices.

Author: Doris Leutgeb

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Author:

Doris Leutgeb