Private Collection, Sweden (acquired from the above in 1979)
Sotheby’s, London, Contemporary Art Evening Auction, 25 June 2009, Lot 2
Private Collection (acquired from the above sale)
Sotheby’s, London, Contemporary Art Evening Auction, 15 February 2012, Lot 9
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Yves Klein, ‘Yves the Monochrome 1960: Truth Becomes Reality’ in: Yves Klein, trans. Klaus Ottman, Overcoming the Problematics of Art: The Writings of Yves Klein, New York 2007, p. 185.
Untitled Anthropometry (ANT 59) is a work of mesmeric beauty and dense conceptual content. Bedecked in Yves Klein’s signature pigment, it seems to distil the central tenets of his oeuvre: theatricality, mystique, tenacity, and vision. It is filled with a sense of impact; not only compositional impact, achieved through the contrast between bright blue paint and blank ground, but also literal impact, attained through the imprint of a nude model, daubed in paint and physically pressed upon the canvas. Untitled Anthropometry (ANT 59) shows how Klein used the body as an artistic tool in and of itself: an anthropomorphic brush. In his own words: “It was the block of the body itself, that is to say the trunk and part of the thighs that fascinated me. The hands, the arms, the head, the legs were of no importance. Only the body is alive, all-powerful, and non-thinking” (Yves Klein, ‘Yves the Monochrome 1960: Truth Becomes Reality’ in: Yves KIein, trans. Klaus Ottman, Overcoming the Problematics of Art: The Writings of Yves Klein, New York 2007, p. 185).
Klein’s Anthropometries reached their apex in 1960. It was in this year that the present work was executed, and it was in this year that the artist staged his Anthropométries de l’Epoque Bleu performance, at the Galerie Internationale d’Art Contemporain. For this feted happening, a select audience was invited to watch Klein, dressed in immaculate white tie and gloves, as he directed three nude female models as they covered themselves in his vivid ultramarine, dragged each other across a paper-lined floor, and imprinted themselves in particular poses against a huge wall-mounted canvas. Klein revelled in the precise orchestration of the event and the serene propriety of the invited guests. It is only through the comprehension of this contextual background that we can understand the dynamic performative nature of these works. As much as paintings in their own right, they exist as the beautiful relics of these beguiling ceremonies. We are reminded of his oft-repeated motto: “Painting is no longer for me a function of the eye. My paintings are the ashes of my art” (Ibid., p. 143).
The son of two artists, Klein was extremely well versed in art history. In the present work the influence of Matisse’s series of cut-outs, such as Blue Nude from 1952, seems particularly relevant, not only in their deployment of a similar palette, but also in their equitable brevity of form and comparative simplicity of composition. However, in the context of art history, the Anthropometries are more readily understood as examples of Klein’s idiosyncratic subversion. In these works, he appropriates the female nude – that motif that for centuries had been treated with idealised sensuality – splashes it in his blue pigment, and pushes it up against the picture plane with unabashed immediacy. Where throughout history, the nude had stood as a test of painterly skill and draftsmanship; it is here achieved with none. In these works, Klein purposefully inherits the traditions of his artistic predecessors only to warp and reject them.
In keeping with the best of Klein’s oeuvre, Untitled Anthropometry (ANT 59) is sublime in its aesthetic, charged with intellectual significance, and rich in art-historical content. In truth, it should barely be considered a painting at all, but rather a distilled gem of conceptual verve; the glimmering residue of a preclusive performance. It acted as a precursor to countless strands of avant-garde art, and exists today as tribute to an artist at the forefront of the Parisian zeitgeist, who covered the world in his patented pigment, and leapt forth into the void.
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