PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED EUROPEAN COLLECTOR
Yves Klein's Archisponge (RE 11), from 1960 is one of the most evocative and potent representations of his unique, and uncompromising art and, as reflected in its title, a summation of the artist's Sponge Relief series. With its rich texture, color saturation and scatter of sponges, it alludes to the notion of a world other than our own. Growing up on the Mediterranean coast, Klein was deeply affected by the void of sea and sky as uninterrupted spatial fields. Underlying his boundless creativity was an innate desire to venture beyond that which was concrete. Archisponge (RE 11) is a stunning masterpiece representing one of the most important works in the artist's legendary oeuvre. Klein signed his name with the additional appellation of ``le monochrome'' and Archisponge (RE 11) sings with the ravishing International Klein Blue. The textural addition of the natural sponges deepened Klein's explorations into art as a metaphysical portal to the beyond. In 1961, the only museum exhibition of Klein's work during his lifetime was held at the Museum Haus Lange in Krefeld. Klein worked closely with director Paul Wember to choose the works for the show, and personally designed the layout of the exhibition. The placement of Archisponge (RE 11) in this show is revealing: the main entrance gallery was a room devoted to blue and Archisponge (RE 11) held pride of place as a solo wall relief in the center of a main wall. In both its size and stature, the present work is a dramatic synthesis of the sensual manipulation of organic mass with the almost extravagant luxury of Klein's signature blue.
Klein was a visionary whose art ranged over many mediums to develop his principles of unitary wholeness and material/immaterial. Klein's stylistic maturity as a painter of monochromes began in Paris in 1955 and encompassed only eight brief years of prodigious exploration. The extraordinary Sponge Reliefs would extend Klein's radical departure from the conventional notions of pictorial space, formal purity, and creative authorship. Klein's monochromatic paintings were conceived neither as pictorial planes nor as emotional receptors, but as a conceptual entity grounded on quasi-metaphysical interpretations. His beliefs were a fusion of Eastern Japanese philosophy and Rosicrucian principles developed by Max Heindel in La Cosmologie de Rose-Croix), a book obtained by the artist in 1947. For Heindel, "the dematerialization of all finite figures into the infinite ground of the immaterial constituted the passage into the next age ....which would no longer be characterized by figures with limits, but by pure space, the absence of figures, the lack of boundaries, the world of 'color,' the passage into the infinite." (Exh. Cat., Berlin, Deutsche Guggenheim, On the Sublime, 2001, pp. 71-72) Klein was also interested in the Arte Nucleare movement founded in Milan in 1951, which promoted art allied with the universe and was invigorated by a raw sense of matter that appealed to artists such as Lucio Fontana. Klein's sympathetic response to these theories inspired his own reach toward a realm beyond fine art.
By 1960, Klein's commitment to the color blue was supplemented by gold and pink. Pure pigment was Klein's medium, subject matter and content in one, as he described in the gallery notes for Yves Peintures at the Club Solitaires in October 1955. ``[Each] nuance of each color is definitely a `presence,' a living being, an active force which is born and dies after having lived a sort of drama of the life of colors.'' (Exh. Cat., New York, L&M Fine Arts, Yves Klein: a Career Survey, 2005, p. 96) The psychic resonance of saturated IKB blue in Archisponge (RE 11) is at once startling and calming, and the monumental scale of the canvas heightens the emotional impact that overwhelms the viewer's sensibilities. The powdery, velvet blue surface varies in depth and mood according to the play of light across the tactile sponges. In their harmonious resonance and psychic access, Klein's works are closest to Mark Rothko's sublime pictures from the 1950s, yet there is a fundamental difference. Notwithstanding their atmospheric brilliance, Rothko's saturated color fields divide the picture plane in a chromatic dialogue, whereas the present work abandons competing tonalities for a unified singularity.
Klein's Sponge Reliefs were the perfect encapsulation of the strands of his art. With its articulated and textured surface, Archisponge (RE 11) is visually absorbing as it combines his aesthetics with a love of ``immaterial'', chance, nature, mysticism, iconoclasm, and not least theatricality. Unlike the shallower planes of pigment in his monochromes, the dimensionality of the Sponge Reliefs places them in the world of everyday reality. Incorporating sponges into his paintings allowed Klein to introduce compositional ideas into his work without abandoning the unity and rigor of the monochrome surface. Archisponge (RE 11) resembles the strange landscape of a foreign planet or the ocean bed. Andy Warhol would also employ a monochromatic technique in many of his most potent works of serial imagery in the 1960s, where black, inky outlines are deployed across one bold color to convey the artist's meditations on identity or the life/death duality at its most profound.
Previously only an artistic implement, the natural sponges covered in blue struck Klein with their beauty. Following an exhibition of sponge sculptures in 1957, Klein attached sponges on the surface of his paintings, writing ``in an instant this working instrument became raw material for me. ...Thanks to the wild living material of sponges, I was going to be able to do portraits of the beholders of my monochromes, who, ...after having traveled through the blue of my paintings, come back totally impregnated in sensibility, like sponges.'' (Ibid., p. 98) In their most grandiose form, Klein included four ten-meter high Sponge Reliefs in his 1958 commissioned lobby of the Gelsenkirchen Opera House in Germany. With similar verve, the composition of Archisponge (RE 11) is a combination of mind and nature, both calmly controlled and random. Archisponge (RE 11) is a magnetically lyrical work in which the dematerializing blue pigment melds both the materiality of the sponges and the highly textured ground. Devoted to the work of Gaston Bachelard, the philosopher of Air and Dreams, and to the spiritual and physical harmony of Zen, Klein surpassed other artists of his time in the pursuit of the spiritual within art. In Archisponge (RE 11), the raw material is a crucible for transcending the restrictions of medium, process and form. Embedded in an ethereal blue vacuum, the material trace becomes a trace of the immaterial, otherworldly and transcendent.
For Yves Klein, as well as other artists of the sublime such as Mark Rothko, the placement of his work within an exhibition was in itself an artistic enterprise. For an artist of such theoretical dimension, the relation of each work to the other and the conceptual interaction between art, space and the viewer was an extension of the creative act, often attended by rituals or performance events. The penultimate expression of Klein's desire to implement his Blue Revolution through proposed actions was the occasion of the only museum show of his work during the artist's lifetime. Monochrome und Feuer (Monochrome and Fire) in early 1961 was a fully realized celebration of Klein's limitless creativity.
The Museum Haus Lange and Haus Esters in Krefeld, Germany were originally private villas commissioned in the late 1920s by Hermann Lange and designed by Mies van der Rohe. In 1955 Haus Lange was joined with the Kaiser Wilhelm Museum under the enlightened direction of Paul Wember and became a premier showcase for some of the most avant-garde Contemporary art of the day. The greatest synthesis of artist and building was achieved by Klein who demonstrated a natural sympathy for van der Rohe's tranquil spaces and extensive white walls. When Wember invited Klein to exhibit at Museum Haus Lange, the artist outlined an exhibit/event which would be the largest celebration of Klein's oeuvre in his lifetime. Klein visited the villa twice in 1960 and produced various annotated sketches proposing the layout of the exhibition within the five rooms, including the living room which became the Blue Zone, hung with large monochromes and Sponge Reliefs including Archisponge (RE 11). Klein selected 54 objects: among them, 5 large Sponge Reliefs, 10 Monochromes in his signature blue, pink and gold, 11 Anthropometries and Ci-gît l'espace, the artist's tomb-like gold floor panel with blue wreath and pink flowers. Klein's handwritten list of works began with four major Relief Eponges including Archisponge (RE 11) which was placed on the center of the far wall flanked by doorways into the chambers for pink and gold. As a key work in the main entrance gallery, Archisponge (RE 11) was surrounded by large IKB monochromes, sponge sculptures and other large Sponge Reliefs in blue.
Klein conceived events for the opening, one of which did not occur (a performance of his 1947 Symphonie monoton-silence in front of Archisponge) and one of which did (a fire display including a fire fountain and a fire wall which Klein used to produce his first fire paintings). Behind the wall on which Archisponge (RE 11) hung, Klein concluded a lasting testament to his aesthetic by creating an Immaterial room similar to one at Galerie Iris Clert in 1957. Klein requested an empty room `` `for the specialization and atmospheric stabilization of my `Void' volume of immaterial pictorial sensibility.' ... Klein prepared the space personally, painting all six surfaces ...with IKI – International Klein Immaterial – a white paint mixed with a granular additive. ..At the close of Klein's exhibition, Wember and Klein convened in the `void room' and executed the transfer, from artist to director, of a `zone of pictorial immaterial sensibility'. '' (K. Kleinman and L. Van Duzer, Mies van der Rohe: the Krefeld Villas, New York, 2005, p. 36) As Pierre Restany noted, the majority of the works, including Archisponge (RE 11), in the exhibition were created during the year he planned the show, so Klein's creative output fulfilled his vision for the Krefeld exhibition. As Restany wrote, ``Autumn 1960 was the apotheosis of a year of fertile events for Yves Klein, rich in realizations, prodigious in visionary bedazzlements.'' (P. Restany, Yves Klein, le Monochrome, Paris, 1974, pp. 141-142)
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