Yves Klein: La révolution bleue

Untitled Blue Monochrome (IKB 108), 1956
Dry pigment and synthetic resin on canvas mounted on Masonite
19 3/4 x 19 3/4 inches (50.2 x 50.2 cm)
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
© Succession Yves Klein c/o ADAGP, Paris. All rights reserved.
Photo: Kitmin Lee

First is nothing, then there is a deep nothing, then there is a blue depth.
—Gaston Bachelard

In the early 1950s, Yves Klein enlisted the help of Édouard Adam, a paint merchant, and Rhône-Poulenc, a French chemical company, to help him develop a blend of compounds that could adhere raw pigment to a surface. Using this novel fixative, he began applying pigments directly, using brushes, rollers, and sponges to achieve varying surface effects that vibrate with undiluted color. These monochromes assert their materiality while suffusing their surroundings with a palpable charge.

After a jury rejected one of his monochromes for the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles in 1955, the young Klein was only emboldened to pursue his technical and visual innovations. In 1956, his first solo exhibition opened at the Galerie Colette Allendy in Paris. Comprising twenty monochromes in a range of sizes, textures, and colors, the unconventional display of unframed and untitled works demonstrated Klein’s break with rules imposed by the art establishment. This freedom from what Klein called the “total dictatorship” of the Salon is evidenced in works made during this formative period. Untitled Blue Monochrome (IKB 108) exists as a dynamic proposition that extends beyond the confines of its support through the agency of pure color.

The year 1957 marked the beginning of Klein’s self-proclaimed “Blue Period,” which he inaugurated with the exhibition Proposte monochrome, epoca blu at the Galleria Apollinaire in Milan. Departing from the multiple hues of his early monochromes, Klein unveiled a resonant ultramarine that he named International Klein Blue, shortened to IKB. In the gallery’s small room, he hung eleven identically sized IKB monochromes on stanchions that projected slightly out from the wall, such that the paintings seemed to hover in space. As an introduction to the exhibition, Pierre Restany wrote: “Reader, take note: what these monochrome propositions demand of you is that fragment of receptiveness which can make revolutions and bring down tyrants.”

In April of the same year, Klein opened a double exhibition at the Paris galleries of Iris Clert and Colette Allendy. Klein designed a blue postcard and a blue stamp, and Restany wrote the invitation text. One can feel the artist’s enthusiasm regarding the endless possibilities of blue in a postcard written to Iris Clert the following year: “Dear Iris. In the basilica of Saint Francis there are monochromes that are completely blue. It really is incredible, the imbecility of art historians who had never spotted this before. They are all signed “Giotto” What a precursor! Talk about a precursor! Long live Giotto! Long live Iris! See you soon, Yves.”

In 1960, Klein registered the formula for IKB with the French intellectual property office, branding the incandescent mixture as his trademark—the color with which his name is, quite literally, synonymous. For Klein, blue embodied the infinite and the immeasurable—the vastness of what he called “the Void.” Standing before the monochromes, the viewer peers into the absolute, accessing a realm of what Klein deemed “full and pure sensibility.”

 


[1] Fragment from the newspaper Dimanche, 1960. Document © The Estate of Yves Klein c/o Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

[2] Yves Klein with his monochromes, Paris, c. 1956. Photograph © Jean Michalon. Artwork © The Estate of Yves Klein c/o Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

[3] Introduction by Pierre Restany for the exhibition Yves Klein: Proposte monochrome, epoca blu, Galleria Apollinaire, Milan, 1957. Document © The Estate of Yves Klein c/o Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

[4] Poster for the double exhibition Yves Klein, Propositions Monochromes, Galerie Iris Clert and Galerie Colette Allendy, Paris, 1957. Poster © The Estate of Yves Klein c/o Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

[5] Postcard sent from Yves Klein to Iris Clert depicting Giotto’s frescos in the Basilica di San Francesco d’Assisi, 1958. Postcard © The Estate of Yves Klein c/o Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

[6] Note on I.K.B (International Klein Blue) by Yves Klein, c. 1959. Document © The Estate of Yves Klein c/o Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

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