Su Tung-p’o cited in: Klaus Ottmann, Yves Klein: Works and Writings, Barcelona 2010, p. 107.
Enshrining the dawn of Klein’s ‘blue epoch’, Untitled Anthropometry, (ANT 5) is a picture of weightless exaltation. Combining both the elements of fire and earth, this painting is an exquisite and rare example of Yves Klein’s iconic Anthropométries. First exhibited in March 1960, the series succeeded the now mythic performance staged at Maurice d’Arquian’s salon at Galerie Internationale d’Art Contemporain. Collaborating with a group of nude female models as well as a small orchestra, Klein conducted the creation of stunning monumental compositions as the models pressed their paint-soaked bodies upon large white canvases on the ground and walls. Divisible into different categories, the Anthropométries constitute either such positive bodily imprints, delicate shadow-like images (as with the present work) made through the spraying of paint around the curves of the model’s body, or combinations of these methods within the same composition. Of the Anthropométries that both depict the single model’s entire body and involve the combination of fire and blue pigment, only two of these (Untitled Anthropometry, (ANT 2) and the present work) deliberately omit an impression of paint onto canvas; generating a rare, gaseous effect. With its inclusion of the medium of fire, the present work exhibits a rare panoply of Klein’s principal materials, each combined to evoke their very dissolution into immateriality. Redolent of alchemical transformation, the golden patches left by the blow torch symbolise Klein’s much-coveted shift from formality to amorphousness. Like Klein’s own body in his Leap into the Void (1960), the figure in Untitled Anthropometry, (ANT 5) levitates weightlessly; the emanation of International Klein Blue (IKB) from her contours signifies liberation from sensible reality and a journey into the void: a formless realm beyond the reach of our earth-bound faculties.
With his use of models as ‘living brushstrokes’, Klein violently broke with the tradition of figurative painting. But he also, in the eyes of Joseph Kosuth, helped pave the way for the emergence of conceptual art. If the earliest Happenings at Black Mountain College in 1952 amalgamated the media of music, dance and poetry – often with the aim of exposing taboo or polemical themes – the transatlantic Fluxus events of the 1960s rendered public interaction and collaboration an essential part of the final art-product. Klein’s vision, however, was realised with an unprecedented passion and precision. As Hannah Weitemeier writes, “the authenticity of [Klein’s] statement on the dream of flying makes it clear why Klein not only became the pioneer of 1960s European art par excellence, but the secret star of the 1970s and 1980s internationally” (Hannah Weitemeier, Yves Klein 1928 - 1962: International Klein Blue, Cologne 1995, p. 51). In part, this is due to the Anthropométries’ enacting a collaborative resurrection of the body in contemporary art at a time when abstraction dominated received aesthetics. This was a hugely subversive act executed by an elite subset of progressive artists. Untitled Anthropometry, (ANT 5) recalls Robert Rauschenberg and Susan Weil’s immaculate Female Figures (1949/50): large-format cyanotypes in which the figure was exposed to light on a photo-sensitive surface to produce weightless silhouettes over a translucent ground. Just as Rauschenberg collaborated with John Cage and Merce Cunningham in theatrical pieces at Black Mountain College, Klein’s Anthropométries are indissociable from the ‘Monotone-Silence Symphony’ that accompanied his process. Far from playing into the myth of the male artist as isolated genius or lone engineer, the Anthropométries were a revolutionary step towards an unprecedentedly inclusive artistic practice.
Klein’s interest in painting with the body has a long and rich history. On the 5th June 1958, Klein realised his first performance of living brushes and produced a monochrome rather than a recognisably corporeal image at the Île Saint-Louis apartment of his friend Robert Godet. One year later, having spent his summer in Nice with Arman, Klein’s conversations with the artist helped inspire Arman’s Allure series: compositions created by throwing inked objects, including necklaces, needles, and pebbles, at a canvas. Cultivating the spirituality that would come to characterise all of his later work, Klein schooled himself in both the Japanese choreography of kata and Zen Philosophy. Klein’s well-documented passion for judo served as the final aesthetic ingredient necessary for his first mature body paintings and the seminal performance of February 1960.
Where the female nude possesses an extraordinarily storied aesthetic history, the present work is undeniably heir to this rich inheritance. The female figure in Untitled Anthropometry, (ANT 5) deliberately lacks facial features, serving both to reify her into a general Platonic form, and preempt her passage into a realm devoid of individuation. Echoes of masterpieces like Willem de Kooning’s Woman I (1950-52), Henri Matisse’s Blue Nude II (1952) and Amedeo Modigliani’s Caryatids resound from Untitled Anthropometry, (ANT 5) as though amplified or summoned by it. As Sidra Stich writes, “because the body imprints are faceless and headless, they do not appear as individualised portrayals or gesticulations associated with self-expression. They instead give evidence of the reversed state of being wherein the ‘I without the “I” became one with life itself’” (Sidra Stich and Yves Klein cited in: Exh. Cat., London, Hayward Gallery, Yves Klein, 1995, p. 175). A deeply spiritual man, Klein’s last words, allegedly uttered just moments before his cardiac arrest on the 6th June 1962, evinced an unshakable commitment to his bold artistic leap: “I will have the largest studio in the world. From now on, I will only create the immaterial”’ (Yves Klein quoted in: Klaus Ottmann, Yves Klein: Works and Writings, Barcelona 2010, p. 127).
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