Centre Pompidou, Paris
The Yves Klein exhibit is at The Centre Pompidou / Musée National d'Art Moderne, in Paris, from 5 Oct. 06 - 5 Feb. 07
Centre Pompidou, Paris
The exhibition will also be presented at the Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, Wien (Vienna, Austria) from 9 March 9th to June 3rd, 2007.
Long live the immaterial! - Yves Klein, The Chelsea Hotel Manifesto
Yves Klein is for me, and many others, the most important French artist after Henri Matisse. This may sound somewhat appalling to some, as Klein enjoyed only a very concise, but invigorating, seven-year artistic career.
But I will clarify this controversial judgment by pointing out his historic relevance to our era of digital culture. The emphasis here will be on Klein’s conceptual articulation of the spatial and the ephemeral/immaterial in relationship to our current actual state of virtuality. Indeed the subtitle of the exhibition, CORPS, COULEUR, IMMATÉRIEL (Body, Color, Immaterial), itself brings out the salient viractual (*1) aspects of Klein's art.
Yves Klein’s own lived life is the first major example of the ephemeral. Klein was born near Nice in a village called Canges-sur-Mer in 1928 of artist parents; Fred Klein, a figurative painter, and Marie Raymond, an abstract painter in the tradition of the École de Paris.
He died unexpectedly in 1962 of a heart attack shortly after seeing the sensationalizing Yves Klein segment of Gualtiero Jacopetti’s Mondo Cane exploitation film at its Canne Film Festival debut at the young age of 34. He was at the height of his fame.
On entering this exhibition the viewer is immediately introduced to the fact that Klein first studied Oriental languages, Zen philosophy and Judo via a highly accomplished digital presentation which was augmented by a plethora of photographs, drawings and texts. Indeed Klein achieved black-belt stature in Judo and taught and wrote a book about the subject after spending fifteen months at the Kodokan Institute in Tokyo. He then went on to found his own Judo school in Paris, making a living teaching Judo from 1955 to 1959. He also played music in a jazz band.
With such a basis in sport and music performance, Klein easily brought his theoretical concerns around space, color and painting into the theatricality of conceptual and performance art and thus negated and undermined the classical work of art object, dissolving art into action and thus styling himself into an artistic personality in a way that anticipated the strategies of Andy Warhol and Joseph Beuys and Orlan.
His staging of even the minutest details and the orchestration of their documentation and framed reception, along with his linking of art and technology, make him a most relevant figures for current art practice.
What was not pointed out in the show very well was that in 1948, at age 20, Klein discovered a book by Max Heindel (1865-1919) which teaches the basic beliefs of an esoteric Christian sect called the Rosicrucians. Klein obsessively studied the book for five years, and after coming to Paris in 1955, began to refer to himself as an initiate in the sect (he was made a Knight of the Order of Archers of Saint Sebastian) and was married to the beautiful Rotrault Uecker (now Rotrault Klein-Moquay) within it’s highly flamboyant and ritualistic ceremony. This exceedingly formal marriage is presented further on in the show in a delightful color documentary film.
Based on the Rosicrucian metaphysical ideology, Klein avowed to indicate to the world a new age, the Age of Space. In the Age of Space, boundless spirit would exist free of form, objects would levitate, and humans would travel liberated from their body. This contextual understanding is essential for understanding Klein’s artistic importance, as this ideology of the immaterial informs all his work, even the paintings but most explicitly such conceptual-technological works as the Sculpture aérostatique (1957) which was the release of 1001 balloons, and the Illumination de l'Obélisque (1958) in the Place de la Concorde.
Indeed, the exhibition reinstates Klein's metaphysical ideology as the basis of his ephemeral actions as equal to his monochrome paintings. Definitely the well-known IKB blue monochrome were for him no more than an introduction to his ideological "blue revolution", which he saw as the diffusion of immaterial pictorial sensibility throughout the whole cosmos, both visible and invisible. So blue color was for Klein was not pigment and binder but a spiritual, cosmic force that stimulates the entire environment, transforming life itself into a work of art.
Admittedly, Klein's idea of pure virtual open space (free from form) was first actualized in his blue monochrome paintings, where the bisecting nature of line was rejected in favor of an even, all-over, ultramarine-blue color which he called IKB (International Klein Blue). However, later some of his monochromes were painted pink or gold. The Ex-voto dédié à Sainte-Rita (1961) which was deposited by Klein at the Convent of Santa Rita in Cascia, Italy (and presented for the first time at this exhibition) is valuable evidence of the importance of pink and gold alongside blue in Klein's imaginative, viractual, and ephemeral universe.
Of course Klein, by all accounts, was not all theory. He was a showman too. In 1957, not long after the appearance of the first monochromes in 1955, Klein turned to the further exploration of the immaterial aspect of his art through act and gesture. His exhibitions of evanescent performance works, ephemeral sculptures in fire or water, sound works, "air architectures" and artistic appropriation of the entirety of space (extending to the whole cosmos) were all manifestations of the ephemera and invisible idea that for him is the essential experience of art itself.
We must remember when gazing into his luxurious blue paintings that Klein's interests in open areas of color and light, in vibrating voids, and in sheer saturated colors emptied of figurative presence are primarily directed towards space's and color’s aoristic qualities, qualities which subsequently will interest future generations of ambient-oriented artists and digital artists.
Most notably, in 1958 Klein went beyond the monochrome rectilinear canvas with a distinguished ephemeral and immersive presentation titled Le Vide (The Void), which was held at Galerie Iris Clert in Paris. For this exhibition Klein cleaned out and whitewashed the gallery and "impregnated" the empty space with his consciousness; filling the freshly whitened gallery (emptied of figurative presence) with Le Vide, through which Klein led small groups. Yves Klein, Le Vide, 1958
Yves Klein, Le Vide, 1958
Further along these lines, in early-1961 Klein installed, as part of his retrospective at Museum Haus Lange in Krefeld Germany, another immersive walk-in installation called Raum der Leere (Room of the Void) in reference to his Le Vide which consisted of a 285 by 442 by 172 centimetre room (approximately 9 by 14 by 5.6 feet) painted white (with slightly rough textured surface) lit by neon lamps. This work is documented through photographs and drawings in the exhibit.
Also notable is Klein's faux Leap into the Void: Man in Space! The Painter of Space Throws Himself into the Void! of 1960 of course deserves some mention concerning immaterial idea art. Klein’s famous photomontage Leap into the Void, which depicts him floating above a street, is a symbol of the desire to overcome gravity and thus enter into the unlimited aspects of virtuality. It is a manifestation of Klein’s will to transcend limits, which runs through his entire oeuvre.
Beginning in 1960 Klein devoted himself increasingly to the immaterial aspects of fire as a medium to express elemental energy. I very much liked and respected the Cosmogonies “paintings” on view here, which capture the imprint of wind, of rain.
Fire and air, two invisible fluids that Klein officially claimed as his own, give rise to works both real (fire paintings) and utopian; such as his air architecture projects and his schemes for planetary air-conditioning.
But the gorgeous color film of Klein painting various Anthropometries through the use of "living paintbrushes" (i.e. female nudes) in a black dinner jacket while his proto-minimalist one note Monotone Symphony (1949) is performed is certainly one of the high points in the show, even though it perhaps it was responsible for his death after he viewed it in the dreadful context of the Mondo Cane film.
The music is performed brilliantly live as the nude models paint each other from the buckets of lush IKB Blue paint, gently pressing their naked bodies against the canvas that had been placed on wall and floor - while Klein (wearing white gloves) directs them verbally, never touching the paint or the bare models. (*3)
This is, needless to say, a highly ephemeral way to paint which pointed the way towards (and then away from) the Nouveaux Réalistes (New Realists), the French post-war avant-garde movement which was organized and theorized by the French poet and art critic Pierre Restany (1930-2003).
The core issue of the Nouveaux Réalistes was the conception of art as formed by “real” elements, that is, materials taken from the world directly rather than formed pictorially. Influenced by Yves Klein and the general anti-rationalism that opposed the machine-like logic which underlay the killing efficiency of aerial war, many artists followed in these deep but shifting footsteps.
Despite numerous retrospectives, among them the exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in 1983, much of Klein's immaterial-oriented work remained somewhat unknown until recently. In bringing together 120 paintings and sculptures, some 40 drawings and manuscripts and a great number of contemporary films and photographs, this exhibition offered me a new reading of Klein's work, this time in the context of virtuality.
Adhering as faithfully as possible to the artist's own intentions as revealed in his recently published writings, the design of the exhibition brought out the importance that Klein accorded to the diverse aspects of his artistic practice: not only painting and sculpture, but also immaterial performances, sound works, interventions in public spaces, architectural projects and, most essentially, immaterial art theory.
This diverse oeuvre, all produced during a period of just seven years, is indeed impressive as much of it anticipated the trends of Happening and Performance Art, Land Art, Body Art, Conceptual Art and Digital Art. Thus it has had an, ironically, a durable influence on art through its essential interest in and expressions of the immaterial.
Fall 2006, Paris
(*1) The basis of the viractual conception is that virtual producing computer technology has become a significant means for making and understanding contemporary art and that this brings us artists to a place where one finds the emerging of the computed (the virtual) with the uncomputed corporeal (the actual). This merge – which tends to contradict some dominant techno clichés of our time - is what I call the ‘viractual’. This blending of computational virtual space with ordinary viewable space indicates the subsequent emergence of a new topological cognitive-vision of connection between the computed virtual and the uncomputed corporeal world.
(*2) Aorist is a classical Greek spatial term which was used when discussing an occurrence without limitations. Aorist literally means without horizons.
(*3) A short film, with a non monotone sound track, of a Klein painting performance can be viewed on-line at: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=8859506883702524061&q=Yves+Klein
Since 1986 Joseph Nechvatal has worked with ubiquitous electronic visual information, computers and computer-robotics. His computer-robotic assisted paintings and computer software animations are shown regularly in galleries and museums throughout the world. From 1991-1993 he worked as artist-in-resident at the Louis Pasteur Atelier and the Saline Royale / Ledoux Foundation's computer lab in Arbois, France on The Computer Virus Project: an experiment with computer viruses as a creative stratagem. In 2002 he extended that artistic research into the field of viral artificial life through his collaboration with the programmer Stïphane Sikora.
Dr. Nechvatal earned his Ph.D. in the philosophy of art and new technology at The Centre for Advanced Inquiry in the Interactive Arts (CAiiA) University of Wales College, Newport, UK where he served as conference coordinator for the 1st International CAiiA Research Conference entitled Consciousness Reframed: Art and Consciousness in the Post-Biological Era (July 1997); an international conference which looked at new developments in art, science, technology and consciousness. Dr. Nechvatal presently teaches at the School of Visual Arts in New York City (SVA) and at Stevens Institute of Technology. He writes periodically on art and new technology for "The Thing", "Intelligent Agent", "Tema Celeste", and "Zing".