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Yves Klein

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Klein Ex-voto Dedicated to Saint Rita of Cascia by YK 1961

Klein Folding Screen 1957

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Yves Klein 28 April 1928 – 6 June 1962) was a French artist considered an important figure in post-war European art.  He is the leading member of the French artistic movement of Nouveau réalisme founded in 1960 by the art critic Pierre Restany.  Klein was a pioneer in the development of Performance art, and is seen as an inspiration to and as a forerunner of Minimal art, as well as Pop art.

Klein was born in Nice, in the Alpes-Maritimes department of France. His parents, Fred Klein and Marie Raymond, were both painters. His father painted in a loose Post-impressionist style, while his mother was a leading figure in Art informel, and held regular soirées with other leading practitioners of this Parisian abstract movement.  From 1942 to 1946, Yves Klein studied at the École Nationale de la Marine Marchande and the École Nationale des Langues Orientales and began practicing judo. At this time, he became friends with Arman Fernandez and Claude Pascal and started to paint. At the age of nineteen, Klein and his friends lay on a beach in the south of France, and divided the world between themselves; Arman chose the earth, Claude, words, while Yves chose the ethereal space surrounding the planet, which he then proceeded to sign: With this famous symbolic gesture of signing the sky, Klein had foreseen, as in a reverie, the thrust of his art from that time onwards—a quest to reach the far side of the infinite.

Between 1947 and 1948, Klein conceived his Monotone Symphony (1949, formally The Monotone-Silence Symphony) that consisted of a single 20-minute sustained chord followed by a 20-minute silence – a precedent to both La Monte Young’s drone music and John Cage’s 4′33″.  During the years 1948 to 1952, he traveled to Italy, Great Britain, Spain, and Japan. In Japan, at the early age of 25, he became a master at judo receiving the rank of yodan (4th dan/degree black-belt) from the Kodokan, which at that time was a remarkable achievement for a westerner.  He also stayed in Japan in 1953. Klein later wrote a book on Judo called Les fondements du judo. In 1954, Klein settled permanently in Paris and began in earnest to establish himself in the art world.

Although Klein had painted monochromes as early as 1949, and held the first private exhibition of this work in 1950, his first public showing was the publication of the Artist’s book Yves: Peintures in November 1954. Parodying a traditional catalogue, the book featured a series of intense monochromes linked to various cities he had lived in during the previous years. Yves: Peintures anticipated his first two shows of oil paintings, at the Club des Solitaires, Paris, October 1955 and Yves: Proposition monochromes at Gallery Colette Allendy, February 1956. Public responses to these shows, which displayed orange, yellow, red, pink and blue monochromes, deeply disappointed Klein, as people went from painting to painting, linking them together as a sort of mosaic.

From the reactions of the audience, [Klein] realized that…viewers thought his various, uniformly colored canvases amounted to a new kind of bright, abstract interior decoration. Shocked at this misunderstanding, Klein knew a further and decisive step in the direction of monochrome art would have to be taken…From that time onwards he would concentrate on one single, primary color alone: blue

Alongside works by Andy Warhol and Willem de Kooning, Yves Klein’s painting RE 46 (1960) was among the top-five sellers at Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art sale in May 2006. His monochromatic blue sponge painting sold for $4,720,000. Previously, his painting RE I (1958) had sold for $6,716,000 at Christie’s New York in November 2000.  In 2008, MG 9 (1962), a monochromatic gold painting, sold for $21,000,000 at Christie’s.  FC1 (Fire Color 1) (1962), a nearly 10-foot long panel created with a blowtorch, water and two models, sold for $36.4 million at Christie’s.

The Brisbane band Yves Klein Blue is named after Klein’s International Klein Blue.

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