Morton G. Neumann, Chicago (acquired from the above in 1960)
Thence by descent to the present owner
Yves Klein, ‘Truth Becomes Reality or Why Not!’, in: Yves Klein, Overcoming the Problems of Art: The Writings of Yves Klein, New York 2007, p. 143.
The mesmerising intensity of Yves Klein’s seminal Untitled Blue Monochrome, (IKB 239) transcends into an ethereal space of infinity that is akin to the vastness of the sky or ocean. Sublime in appearance and imposing in size, the present work embarks on a revolutionary path in which the autonomy of pure colour is celebrated as the single most important authority within the picture plane. Renouncing any interference with the canvas other than colour itself, Klein’s IKB monochromes are a conflation of materiality and spirituality through which the notion of time is reversed to create a new visual and sensual idiom devoid of any exterior contamination. This postulate of radical conceptual rigour and philosophical depth marks the pinnacle of Klein’s pursuit of a “pictorial sensibility”, the search for the absolute immateriality in painting: “…I do believe that it is only in the monochrome that I truly live pictorial life, the painterly life of which I have dreamed. This was precisely what I have hoped for in painting! I find myself within it, in the special matter, the pictorial matter, and I have blossomed” (Yves Klein, ‘Truth Becomes Reality or Why Not!’, in: Yves Klein, Overcoming the Problems of Art: The Writings of Yves Klein, New York 2007, p. 143).
Presenting itself as an abyssal meander of deep ultramarine blue from afar, rippled nuances and structural irregularities of the heavy sediment of pigment appear at close view as if looking onto an endless sea of waves. The present work in particular is a powerful articulation of how these celestial paintings extend frontally and laterally beyond the boundaries of traditional painterly space: the verso of the painting, on the wooden hardboard, appears an exceptional polyphony of exuberant swirls and splashes of blue pigment that entangle the surface as if recounting the drama of one of Klein’s famous performances in which nude female models acted as human paintbrushes. As such, IKB 239 is a rare Gesamtkunstwerk that references Klein’s inexhaustible creative output and echoes the writings of French philosopher Gaston Bachelard, who strived for a re-spiritualisation of the world and became an important influence on Klein’s artistic practice: “First, there is nothing, then there is a deep nothing; then there is a blue depth” (Gaston Bachelard quoted by Yves Klein, Overcoming the Problematics of Art in: ibid., p. 46).
In January 1957, Klein exhibited eleven works of identical format, tone, intensity, and dimensions at the Galleria Apollinaire in Milan, which inaugurated the most significant period of his career: the Blue Period. The title of the exhibition, Yves Klein: Proposte monocrome, epoqua blu, was coined by the renowned French art historian Pierre Restany, who by using this expression pointed towards the materiality of Klein’s works in their evocation of a true sense of colour while maintaining the traditional painterly proportions of the rectangular format. Displayed unframed, the chromatic intensity of each work enveloped the entirety of each canvas beyond its edges to create a sheer infiniteness through uninterrupted colour. This striving for the dematerialisation and emancipation from matter was further emphasised by hanging the works at a distance of 20 centimetres from the wall which enhanced a transformative experience of space through a singular use of colour. The saturated gallery space reversed the traditional roles of public and wall space and thus overcame the predicament of art at the time. Ultimately abandoning pictorial content and form, Klein’s works and their display provoked an impassioned response. In addition, the artist deliberately chose to price each work differently although the paintings were identical in size. An audacious plot in itself that revolted against the usual practice of pricing by size, material, and physical appearance, Klein demonstrated the dichotomy between the parameters established by the art market and the highly individual experience that each of his monochromes conveyed. In his eyes, the entirely different essence of each painting could not be captured by any form of static price mechanisms. “Those who chose recognised that state I refer to as pictorial sensibility” (Yves Klein, ‘The Evolution of Art Towards the Immaterial: Lecture at the Sorbonne, June 3, 1959’ in: ibid., p. 84). Lucio Fontana and Piero Manzoni, who saw the exhibition in Milan, were deeply affected by these revolutionary paintings and Fontana became one of the first collectors of Klein’s work.
His influences were deeply embedded within his art, most notably in the immaterialisation of the monochrome that immerses in the void of pure colour and space. Not unlike his contemporary Barnett Newman, whose interest in Kabbalah mysticism informed his famous stripe paintings, Klein sought inspiration through religious philosophy. By application of rigorous intellectual, logical thought, he achieved a state of transcendence and sensory intuition that translated into his art. As his friend and fellow artist Jean Tinguely said: “His passion always went beyond, beyond the plain state of things” (Jean Tinguely quoted in: Pierre Restany, ‘Who Is Yves Klein?’, in: ibid., p. 27).
Klein’s 'Blue Period' was preceded by years of meticulous training and preparation to achieve the powerful colour that would invigorate his monochrome paintings. Already as a young child growing up in the South of France, he “spent hours at the beach gazing at the blue sky, where, according to his personal ‘mythology’, he inscribed the sky with his signature to take ownership of it as his greatest and most beautiful work of art. He declared the sky above the beach of Nice to be his ‘first and greatest monochrome’” (Yves Klein, ‘The Chelsea Hotel Manifesto’ (1961) in: Klaus Ottmann, trans., Yves Klein: Works, Writings, Barcelona 2010, p. 24). In 1947, he first conceived the idea of the monochrome intellectually and experimented with different monochrome gouaches and pastels. However, it took Klein a few more years to fully emancipate his concept of the monochrome. While working for a framer on Old Brompton Road in London in 1949, he first came across the full intensity of raw colour pigments. Assisting in mixing different types of glues, colours, varnishes, and gildings, the artist became intoxicated with the explosive and bursting luminosity of unalloyed pigment. “They had a brilliance and an extraordinary, autonomous life of their own. This was truly color in itself. The living and tangible matter of colour” (Yves Klein, ‘The Monochrome Adventure’ (1959), in: ibid., p. 154). After extensive technical research he discovered synthetic resin as an adhesive that managed to retain the pure intensity of raw pigment.
In his use of colour, Klein was highly influenced by Eugène Delacroix’s pioneering engagement with colour theory, which greatly anticipated and influenced the Impressionists in their collective aim to transmute light and atmosphere through diffuse and unbridled colour. Delacroix’s non-conformist Romanticism and his belief in the brilliance of pure colour stood itself in contrast to Ingres’s Neoclassical compositional championing of line and form. The ’pictorial sensibility’ proclaimed by Klein is found in Eugène Delacroix’s writings as the ‘indefinable’ in painting. Klein notes that “in sum, the physical painting owes its right to exist to one single fact, that one believes only in the visible while quite obscurely sensing the essential presence of something else, clearly otherwise more important, at times almost invisible!” (Yves Klein, ibid., p. 146). In Yves Klein’s work, reality is not represented by means of line and form but evoked through the domain of the subconscious as well as the unconscious. Through his idiosyncratic shade of blue, Yves Klein felt he was “closing in, more and more, on the indefinable of which DELACROIX spoke in his journal as being the one true MERIT OF PAINTING“ (Yves Klein, 'Overcoming the Problematics of Art' in: ibid., p. 46). Significantly, Klein considered the 'Blue Period' as his true artistic initiation into pure pictorial sensibility. In the 'Chelsea Hotel Manifesto' of 1961 he outlined the foundational status of his seminal monochrome opus: "The answer to the question of how I was introduced to pictorial sensitivity may be found in the intrinsic force of the monochromes of my blue period of 1957. This period of blue monochromes was the fruit of my quest for the undefinable in painting which the master Delacroix could already intimate" (Yves Klein, ‘The Chelsea Hotel Manifesto' (1961), in: ibid., p. 200).
Self-sufficient in its immateriality and aspiring to a sensibility that transposes the limits of time, the present work exudes an unmitigated but ultimately sensuous beauty. The alchemical mixture of mystical transcendence and conceptual rigour that is consolidated by the luminous ultramarine blue conjures an allurement of the invisible while the levitation of pure colour pigments evokes an extrasensory experience. As Klein wrote in his manifesto ‘The Monochrome Adventure’: “Painting is alchemical, and beyond time. It represents nothing” (Yves Klein, ‘The Monochrome Adventure’, quoted in: Thomas McEvilley, ‘Yves Klein: Conquistador of the Void’, in: Exhibition Catalogue, Houston, Institute for the Arts, Rice Museum, Yves Klein 1928-1962: A Retrospective, 1982, p. 46).
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