fire, flame-resistant resin and water body imprints on card laid down on panel
Paul Wember, Yves Klein, Cologne 1969, p. 131, illustrated and pp. 25-26, illustration of the artist creating the present work
Exhibition Catalogue, Houston, Rice Museum; Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art; New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Yves Klein 1928-62: A Retrospective, 1982-83, p. 374, illustration of the artist creating the present work
Anette Kuhn, Zero, Eine Avantgarde der sechziger Jahre, Berlin 1991, p. 78, illustration of the artist creating the present work
Exhibition Catalogue, Oslo, Museet for Samtidskunst, The National Museum of Contemporary Art; Tampere, Sara Hildén Art Museum; Sydney, Museum of Contemporary Art, Yves Klein, 1997-98, p. 189, illustration of the artist creating the present work
Jean-Paul Ledeur, Yves Klein, Catalogue Raisonné des Editions, Knokke-le-Zoute 2000, p. 172, illustration of the artist creating the present work
Nicolas Charlet, Yves Klein, Paris 2000, pp. 220-21, illustration of the artist creating the present work
Pierre Restany, Yves Klein: Le feu au coeur du vide, Paris 2005, n.p., illustration of the artist creating the present work
Exhibition Catalogue, Salzburg, Museum der Moderne, ZERO. Künstler einer europäischen Bewegung. Sammlung Lenz Schönberg 1956-2006, 2006, p. 89, illustrated
Anna and Gerhard Lenz with Ulrike Bleicker-Honisch, Epoche Zero. Sammlung Lenz Schönberg. Leben in Kunst, Vol. I, Ostfildern 2009, p. 98-99, no. KL-09, illustrated in colour
"I made the flames lick the surface of the painting in such a way that it recorded the spontaneous traces of the fire. But what is it that provokes in me this pursuit of the impression of fire? Why must I search for its traces? Because every work of creation, quite apart from its cosmic position, is the representation of pure phenomenology – every phenomenon manifests itself of its own accord. This manifestation is always distinct from form, and is the essence of the immediate, the trace of the immediate."
The artist cited in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Tate, Yves Klein, 1974, p. 67
"In sum, my goal is twofold: first of all, to register the trace of human sentimentality in present-day civilization; secondly, to register the trace of fire which has engendered this very civilization. And this is because the void has always been my constant preoccupation; and I hold that in the heart of the void as well as in the heart of man, fires are burning".
Excerpt from the Chelsea Hotel Manifesto, New York, 1961, cited in: Yves Klein, Le dépassement de la problématique de l'art et autres écrits, Ecole nationale supérieure des beaux-arts, Paris 2003, p. 294
By far the most significant and largest exemplar of Yves Klein's internationally celebrated Fire Paintings ever to be presented at auction F 88 is a masterpiece not only of Zero and Nouveau réalisme, but also of the history of twentieth-century art. It holds a central position in the critical redefinition of painting and sculpture that occurred in the decades following the Second World War. It is here that we find Yves Klein's most experimental and daring creativity, as well as all the brilliantly innovative ideals that are familiar from the very best moments of his oeuvre. Indeed, F 88 makes an extremely strong claim to stand as the definitive testament to this artist's undisputed genius. According to Paul Wember's inaugural catalogue raisonné, this is one of the two largest paintings of the entire Fire series and is one of only seven Fire Paintings in that inventory to include outlined shadows of the human form. Exceptionally rare and historically significant, F 88 would be the centrepiece of any museum collection, with other examples from this immediately recognisable series housed in international collections including the Centre Pompidou in Paris.
F 88 was executed on 19th July 1961 at the Centre d'Essais du Gaz de France in Saint-Denis near Paris, a research facility owned by the French government that Klein had negotiated to work in for two days. When the Centre's director learnt that Klein was using naked women to make his Fire Paintings on the second day he withdrew permission for further sessions. However, before his eviction Klein was able to explore the possibilities of variously scorching specially prepared, industrial-strength card from Sweden that was covered with magnesium and a cadmium-hydrate silicate, with a slightly magnetized surface that could only be melted using a blowtorch. The two models used for F 88, Elena Palumbo and Gilberte Lenglet, were ritually doused by a water hose operated by Klein's friend the sculptor Alex Kosta, who was dressed as a fireman, before being carefully positioned by Klein. Their wet bodies pushed against the card dampened the flame-resistant surface, so that when Klein ignited his industrial coke-gas blowtorch and subsumed the work in flame those areas were less readily burned. Subsequently, Klein coated Elena and Gilberte in diluted Rhodopas, the binder he used for International Klein Blue, and this flammable varnish by contrast burned violently on the surface. He also positioned the models and sprayed their outlines with water, again saturating the surface so areas remain as negative shadows. The whole work was created during a quasi-ritualistic performance, with Klein dressed immaculately in a tweed waistcoat and bow-tie and wearing a thick fire-proof glove to handle the fire hose.
Holding forever on its serene expanse the traces of Klein's precisely executed performance, the silhouettes of the models here advance his earlier iconic Anthropometrie paintings through this unprecedented technological experimentation. By burning the memories of action into the picture plane, Klein issues a previously unknown aesthetic language to further his artistic philosophy. While his Zero contemporaries were organising their work around the effects of light and dynamic movement, Klein's masterpiece holds the element of fire at its heart. With fire Klein selected the ultimate catalyst of humankind's development out of primeval subsistence and also the fundamental seed for both progress and trauma in the Twentieth Century. With F 88 Klein performs a type of artistic alchemy, enlisting this element that is potentially fatal to our existence to breathe life into his art. Subtly fluctuating according to the play of light across the different textures of its rare unvarnished surface, F 88 resonates with warmth through its golden and ochre hues. While the work's composition was organised around the template of the human form, the oscillations of Klein's flame and the smouldering of the surface generated an abstract schema outside of the artist's control. Consequently it possesses a Zen-like meditative aura as the composition seems to flicker between figuration and abstraction.
The record of a highly choreographed event, F 88 also stands as the silent witness of a transient act, evoking absence through the fixed shadows of a former human presence. Referring directly to Feu 88 in his book Fire at the Heart of the Void, Pierre Restany describes how Klein used fire here to "evoke the final threshold of the presence of absence, flesh's dilution in the immaterial, the sublimated and sublimating expanse" (Pierre Restany, Fire at the Heart of the Void, Putnam, Connecticut 2005, p. 47). The stillness of the body outlines emphasises the departure of life, just as shadows were left fixed on surfaces at Hiroshima and Nagazaki where the annihilating atomic light had been momentarily delayed as it passed through human bodies. Indeed, F 88 epitomises Klein's written statement in the first issue of ZERO in 1958 "One must...keep in mind that we are living in the atomic age, where everything material and physical could disappear from one day to another, to be replaced by nothing but the ultimate abstraction imaginable".
Yet this absence of human existence is supplanted by the sheer force of the artwork, which gives physical form to intangible concepts and affords a wide array of intensely contemplative and emotional responses. With his Fire Paintings Klein realised those invisible concepts that had obsessed him throughout his career and which he had previously pursued through the irrepressible allure of the monochrome and the alchemical mystery of gold. With fire Klein arrived at a medium that was immaterial and essential: light and life itself. This realisation turned out to be the apogee of his spectacular and tragically brief career, as summed up by Restany: "Through the fire's flame, Yves Klein found his style's all-powerfulness, the immediate means to setting without other recourse or alterations the trace of his sensibility's momentary states....[the Fire Paintings] reflect the entire panorama of the monochrome artist's affective life" (Ibid).
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