signed, dated 59 and inscribed A Jacques Duchemin avec mon admiration et mon amitié on the overlap; signed with the star and inscribed Duchemin on the reverse
pigment and synthetic resin on canvas laid down on panel
Paul Wember, Yves Klein: Werkverzeichnis, Biographie, Bibliographie, Ausstellungsverzeichnis, Cologne 1969, p. 73
Yves Klein’s IKB 92 is one of his iconic monochromes of ‘l’epoque bleue.’ During 1959 Klein produced 11 monochromes of identical size and colour, and insisted upon the uniqueness of each art work despite their apparent similarity and their comparable material worth. In 1957 at the Galleria Apollinaire in Milan, Klein had made a statement about this intrinsic and unique value present in a work of art, through the exhibition of 11 monochromes of the same size, but with differing prices. Klein believed that the individual worth of each work resides in the artistic creativity instilled in it, that each work holds an inherent sensibility or aura which is immaterially present and irreproducible - one which sets it apart from any other work of art. This is a powerful statement about authenticity and originality in art, one which is brought about by that artistic skill, or poetry invested in the work of a true artist. In an age of mass production, Klein’s work, while seemingly embracing the form of the readymade in producing many similar paintings and avoiding the personalised touch, rejects it through this insistence upon the unique value of each piece. This is an important insight into Klein’s romanticised, mystical belief in the existence of an immaterial world, which is pivotal to an understanding of his art.
This immaterial world or ‘the void’, as understood by Zen Buddhist philosophy, is symbolised by the ‘International Klein Blue’ which denotes space, purity and freedom. This is essentially an art of non-objectivity, rejecting the artifice of the material world towards a realm of pure sensibility and freedom from association. Klein’s interest in Japanese spiritualism stemmed from his avid practise of Judo which incorporated a philosophy rooted in Zen Buddhism. Rosicrucianism, which also shared the philosophy of the immaterial in Zen, was also embraced by Klein, largely through Max Heindel’s influential writing and through the teachings of Louis Cadeaux. In Zen Buddhism, "the eye of wisdom has comprehended the void, has unmasked all false appearance, and has destroyed attachment to illusory concepts." (H. Dumoulin, A History of Zen Buddhism, London 1963, p. 35) The presence of such influential figures as Jean-Paul Satre, Albert Camus and Simone de Beauvoir, all French existential theorists contemporaneous with Klein, would also have informed the artist’s strong fascination with human existence. Klein’s spiritual perspective however provided a more optimistic and enchanted counterpart to balance their wave of intellectual discourse. By seeking to restore faith in our existence, Klein’s embrace of Eastern spirituality provided a more mystical belief system in the face of the scientific, rationalised traits of Western ideology.
The traditional visual emphasis of Art then is redefined in terms of perceiving and conceptualising within this immaterially focused art. This positions Klein as primarily a conceptual artist. However, his paintings of ‘l’epoque bleue’, although inclusive of this quality, are clearly rooted within the aesthetic. It is the expressiveness of colour which informs this experience, and infuses the consciousness of the viewer. This characterises the experiential monochrome as a form of painting which requires an intense interaction between the viewer and art work; we are almost required to engage in a hypnotic oneness with the piece. The intense blue which pervades these works exhibits his use of colour as a powerful autonomous tool. Klein’s monochrome pieces embrace the psychological impact of colour upon the viewer, making viewing a painting by Klein an enriching sensorial experience, one which is not limited to the eye. This painting denies any visible trace of the artists’ hand, allowing the rich materiality of the blue pigment to saturate the canvas without variation in hue or texture; the colour finds complete, uninterrupted unity in the monochrome. While lines cut through space in denoting form, colour can occupy space completely and can therefore be space itself. The limitlessness of the sea and sky of the Mediterranean is evoked in these spatial, “zones of immaterial pictorial sensibility.” (P. Descargues, ‘Yves Klein as if he Weren’t Dead’ in, Exhibition Catalogue, Oslo, National Museum of Contemporary Art, Yves Klein, 1997, p. 151)
The path of modernism, in its dispensing with every pictorial convention in the history of painting, finds the monochrome at its utmost limit. The monochrome is an abandoned pictorial site, revelatory of modernism's dissolution of form, illusionism and representation. It marks the final stage of modern art's battle against the long traditions embodied in painting. Clement Greenberg saw works of art of this reductive nature as ultimately the final stage for painting. Klein achieved the experiential quality he desired in his later monochromes - which are in scale, colour and textural consistency embodiments of modernism’s, and more specifically abstraction’s final stage - while in essence retaining that romantic pictorial aestheticism.
The idea of art as a diminution of reality in its reordering of things is challenged in these anti-illusionistic, non-referential works. Artists were aiming at a more truthful art which avoided this condition of representation: an art which reveals an actual inner truth. This is interesting as it demonstrates the role of art not in representing or reconfiguring the material world, but revealing to us an insight into something deeper. The juxtaposition of colour in its aestheticism is also rejected in favour of the purity offered by one unmediated colour, avoiding any form of hierarchy in tone or texture. The use of one colour disallows the creation of space through the receding or projecting function of other colours, a phenomenon explored by Itten. This IKB blue occupies its own plane. Colour itself, Klein believed, has its own character and identity, and increasingly formal or painterly manipulations seemed effectively unnecessary. Painterly modulations did not exist in these monochromes; however, textural variations were explored in Klein’s sponge reliefs, the precedents to the more reductive work surrounding IKB 92. The sponges almost depict the intensely compacted pigment of the International Klein Blue as so richly material in chroma that it has begun to encrust the surface of the canvas. “What pleased me above all,” explained Klein, “was pure pigments in powder like the ones I often saw at the wholesale colour dealers…it was truly colour in itself…living and tangible colour material.” (cited in Exhibition Catalogue, Cologne, Museum Ludwig, Yves Klein, 1994-95, p. 59) Paradoxically then, it was the very materialism of colour which could transport the viewer to this realm of immaterial sensibility, and could exist beyond the material world.
The comment these monochromes make upon Modern Art in general is significant in terms of the undoing of the pictorial tradition. The blank canvas which we were left with invited the inscription of a new art, but one which would not restrict itself to this two dimensional plane. The limitations of the canvas and the materialism of the paint itself seemed to inform the initial movement of his art away from the realm of the picture, into such artistic practises as the anthropometry pieces, which embraced the new movement of performance art, and such activities as the ‘Leap into the Void’ whereby Klein famously, in a sublime act of dedication to his belief in levitation, leapt from a building, a parallel to the notion of ‘flying’ in pictorial space within the monochrome.
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