Galerie Rive Droite, Paris
Serge de Bloe, Brussels
Private Collection, France
Sale: Sotheby’s, London, Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 9 February 2006, Lot 30
Acquired by the present owner in 2007
Yves Klein, ‘The Monochrome Adventure’ in: Klaus Ottmann, trans., Overcoming the Problematics of Art: The Writings of Yves Klein, New York 2007, p. 141.
Underpinning a highly conceptual, sternly philosophical, yet deeply spiritual artistic inquiry, the incandescent ultramarine pigment – International Klein Blue – forms the cornerstone of Yves Klein’s revolutionary oeuvre. Comprised of layer upon layer of finely applied powder-like pigment, the IKB paintings collectively embody the purest vehicle for Klein’s pursuit of the immaterial. Invoking the indefinable qualities associated with a Kantian notion of the sublime, Klein sought the ultimate plastic expression of what the artist referred to as pure “pictorial sensibility” through celestial colour alone (Yves Klein, 'Lecture at the Sorbonne' (1959) in: Klaus Ottmann, trans., Overcoming the Problematics of Art: The Writings of Yves Klein, New York 2007, p. 72). Imposing in size and enveloped in Klein’s patented colour – a unique suspension of powdery raw pigment in liquid medium – Untitled Blue Monochrome (IKB 92) is a truly enchanting and undiluted example of the artist’s formative monochrome corpus. Rich sediment accrued in delicate ripples consumes and encases the surface’s entirety. Indeed, Klein’s monochrome thwarts dimensional boundaries as though weightlessly hovering in front of us, freely radiating into ambient space. Depthless, abyssal and undoubtedly sublime, Untitled Blue Monochrome delivers a supreme portal for Klein’s pursuit of the spiritual absolute.
In 1957, the acclaimed French critic Pierre Restany anointed Klein’s IKB paintings as ‘Monochrome Propositions’, the very title of his breakthrough show held at the Galleria Apollinaire in Milan in January 1957, and subsequently Galerie Iris Clert and Colette Allendy’s in Paris later that year. In these exhibitions, eleven IKB monochromes of identical dimensions and surface texture were installed at the intimate gallery environs in Milan and Paris. Although executed in a format designed to echo the art historical tradition of oil on canvas – a format retained in the present work from 1959 – these eleven blue-rectangles were installed on a system of brackets through which they projected 20cm away from the wall. This installation served to enhance the ambient space in front of and surrounding the picture, which in turn sought to augment and challenge the viewer’s optical sensibility. Saturated in the heavy sediment of Klein’s abyssal ultramarine pigment, Untitled Blue Monochrome powerfully confuses the frontal and lateral boundaries of traditional painterly space. Indeed, a contemplation of the present work invokes the unsteadying sense of Vertigo associated with sensorial dysfunction.
Klein arrived at this breakthrough series of works via years of prior conceptual investigation and physical experimentation. Having first discovered the “illumination of matter as a profoundly physical quality” in 1949, he commenced work on a series of technical experiments to preserve the exuberant spectral quality of pure pigment (Yves Klein, 'The Monochrome Adventure' (1958) in: ibid., p. 154). Klein found that traditional fixative and binding mediums dulled the vitality of raw colour and instead sought other means of suspending and conserving the magnetism of radiant powder without tempering its impact. As outlined in his famous 1958 thesis, The Monochrome Adventure, Klein looked to transpose the incandescence of pure pigment onto a classical pictorial format to communicate colour as an unrestrained and resonating presence totally liberated from the traditional supremacy of line and form: “What I desired, at the time, was to present, in a perhaps somewhat artificial style, an opening onto the world of presented colour, a window opened onto the freedom to become impregnated with the immeasurable state of colour in a limitless, infinite manner” (Ibid., p. 155). Though Klein experimented with a wide spectrum of monochromatic paintings in the years prior to the l’Epoque Bleu, most notably as part of his first major exhibitions in Paris, he abandoned this approach after his work was misinterpreted for decorative polychromy. In order to fully immerse the viewer in the sensibility of pure colour without interference, blue was singled out as the ultimate agent for an intimation of the Void. Klein expounded upon the foundational status of his seminal IKB monochrome opus in The Chelsea Hotel Manifesto of 1961: “The explanation of the conditions that led me to pictorial sensibility is to be found in the intrinsic power of the monochromes of my blue period of 1957. This period of blue monochromes was the fruit of my quest for the indefinable in painting…” (Yves Klein, 'The Chelsea Hotel Manifesto' (1961) in: ibid., p. 200).
In a metaphysical turn, Klein’s immersion into a world of pure undisturbed colour was greatly influenced by the poetics of French philosopher, Gaston Bachelard. Celebrated for his poetics of science, Bachelard proposed a highly imagistic project of re-spiritualisation of the world via a contemplation of the four elements of life: earth, air, fire and water. The works made by Klein following the formative Parisian shows in May 1957 suggest a visual manifestation of Bachelard's philosophising on the prima materia. With the IKB monochromes at the very core, the Anthropometries, Reliefs and Sculture Eponges, Zones of Immateriality, Cosmonogies and the Fire Paintings orbit an essentialist elemental quest for a deeply spiritual sensibility rooted in the phenomenological. Endlessly cited within his writings, Klein quoted Bachelard’s poetic 1943 text, Air and Dreams, as a vital adjunct to his Monochrome Adventure: “There is an imaginary beyond, a pure beyond, one without a within. First there is nothing, then there is a deep nothing, then there is a blue depth” (Gaston Bachelard, Air and Dreams, quoted by Yves Klein in: ibid., p. 159). Colour of the infinite sky, the depthless ocean and the true colour of fire, blue is the ultimate spectral shade of the elemental.
Redolent of the eighteenth-century aesthetician Immanuel Kant and his theories on the sublime, Klein’s monochromes court an intimation of the indefinable associated with the philosophical sublime and its integral attribute – Negative Capability. A term coined by the Romantic poet John Keats but entrenched in Kant’s work, Negative Capability gives expression to the essential human inability to conceive of the absolute; an overwhelming failure and intellectual malaise that itself possesses an essence of the sublime that escapes comprehension. In this regard, Klein considers his monochrome panels, not as direct sublime embodiments of the void, but as the closest possible witness of the inexpressible pictorial moment. As he famously wrote: “Painting is no longer for me a function of the eye. My works are only the ashes of my art” (Yves Klein, 'Yves The Monochrome 1960: Truth Becomes Reality' (1960) in: ibid., p. 185).
As worlds of pure colour, the IKB monochromes collapse the distinction between the imagination and the real world. Magnificently inventive yet rigorously intellectual, these astoundingly beautiful blue monochrome works – of which the present piece is a stand-out exemplar – embody the quintessential spirit of Klein’s truly revolutionary and philosophically rich aesthetic practice.
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