PROPERTY FROM THE ESTATE OF A PRIVATE SWEDISH COLLECTOR
Gallery Yves Arman, New York
Marie-Christophe de Menil, New York
Jan Eric Löwenadler, Stockholm
Private Collection, South Korea
Christie’s, London, 13 February 2013, Lot 38
Acquired from the above by the late owner
New York, Salander O'Reilly Gallery, Barnard Collects, The Educated Eye, September - October 1989, n.p., no. 20, illustrated in colour
Luxembourg, Musée national d'histoire et d'art, L'École de Paris? 1945-1964, December 1998 - February 1999, p. 255, illustrated in colour
Yves Klein, Overcoming the Problematics of Art: The Writings of Yves Klein, Paris 2007, p. 18.
Comprising one of only eleven blue monochromes exhibited in the legendary Proposte monocrome, epoca Blu at Galleria Apollinaire in 1957, Untitled Blue Monochrome (IKB 217) is an extraordinarily rare work from Yves Klein’s groundbreaking series of incandescent blue monochrome paintings. As part of the historic Apollinaire show, this painting embodies the very inauguration of Klein’s mythic 'Blue Period'; indeed, contained within the velvety layers of iridescent pigment is the very matter that forever changed the trajectory of Western art history. Thus, this blue Monochome not only encapsulates a work of sublime beauty and dazzling brilliance, it embodies the very cornerstone upon which Klein’s entire praxis was founded. Moreover, the work was previously held in the collection of Marie-Christophe de Menil, daughter to John and Dominique. The de Menil family were Klein’s most passionate advocates and patrons in the years following his premature death, and played a significant role in the instigation of his first US retrospective in 1982. That they appear within the storied history of this picture only endorses its immense gravitas and historical significance.
Untitled Blue Monochrome (IKB 217) emblematises the beginning of Yves Klein’s career in earnest. For years he had been experimenting with the notion of the monochrome, engaging in countless conceptual and physical investigations and coming up with multiple iterations of its form. However, on the 2nd January 1957, at the Galleria Apollinaire in Milan, these experiments came to a head and Klein’s paradigm-shifting ‘Blue Period’ was initiated in a lightning-bolt exhibition that not only shattered all previous conceptions about the artist, but also laid the foundations for the entirety of his career to come. Curated by Pierre Restany, the founder of the Nouveau-Réalisme group, the exhibition featured eleven paintings of identical size, each doused in radiant ultramarine pigment and each installed at varying heights 20 cm away from the wall; the effect enhanced the works’ mesmeric qualities, making them appear as if hovering in mid-air. In contrast to the history of traditional paintings – windows through which a viewer might peer into a fictitious world – these works demanded consideration as autonomous objects in their own right according to their own aesthetic merits.
In the Apollinaire exhibition the core group of eleven works, including the present panel, appeared ostensibly the same; each work measured 78 by 56 cm and each possessed a similar surface texture. However, Klein understood each one to have an individual nuance or sensibility that made it utterly unique: “a pictorial quality… perceptible by something other than its respective material and physical appearance” (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). Indeed, there were several features of the Apollinaire exhibition that foreshadowed Klein’s future reputation as an art-world provocateur – that conquistador of the Void who jumped off a suburban house for his famous Leap into the Void, and who sold immaterial works for kilograms of gold only to demand that the collectors immediately burn the receipt. For example, while each work was presented in the same manner, with the same dimensions, and the same texture, Klein placed eleven different prices on them. This audacious ploy compelled viewers to examine the works more closely, in bewilderment at what they might be missing, and left critics wondering whether the artist was advancing the limits of the avant-garde, or undermining it entirely.
Powerful and immutable, Klein’s Monochromes are the ultimate exposition of his oeuvre; they have served as creative stimulus to countless artists and, even today, their brilliant presence, rippling with miniature waves of beguiling blue, cannot be denied. The works of the 1957 show at the Galleria Apollinaire exerted an immediate effect on the artists who saw it. Lucio Fontana bought one, and subsequently moved his own work further and deeper into monochromy, even creating his celebrated tagli paintings in comparable ultramarine on occasion. Piero Manzoni was even more deeply affected. From this point onwards, he totally rejected his previously held semi-figurative style and began to make his Achromes – now a fêted series in their own right. Manzoni’s oeuvre became a sort of inversion of Klein’s; where Klein worked in ultramarine pigment, Manzoni worked in white Kaolin; where Klein championed colour, Manzoni celebrated achromocity. The Italian spent the subsequent years of his career providing counterpoint and contrast for his French contemporary; so much of his career, which is now celebrated in countless institutions around the world, stemmed from this exhibition.
Untitled Blue Monochrome (IKB 217) is magisterial; it is a work of sublime beauty and immense historical significance that emblematises Yves Klein’s inimitable oeuvre. The Monochromes were Klein’s calling card – the essence from which his entire facture was extrapolated. Their curation at the Galleria Apollinaire in 1957 not only belied Klein’s mystical mischievous nature, but also heralded the decisive role his art would play in the trajectory of twentieth-century art history.
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