Yves Klein: With
the Void, Full Powers. Order the
book - the excellent source for this article -
Article added on August 1, 2010
The biography of Yves Klein, largely based on
With the Void, Full Powers
Yves Klein was born in Nice (France)
on April 28, 1928.
His father was the Dutch-Indonesian figurative painter and art dealer
(Frits) Fred Klein (1898-1990) and his mother
the French abstract painter Marie Raymond (1908-1989). The parents moved to
Paris when Yves was only a few months old, leaving the child in the care of
his aunt, Rose Raymond, with whom he maintained a close relationship
throughout his life. His childhood was divided between living with his
grandparents in Nice and his parents in Paris.
From 1939 to 1943, Klein's parents became leading figures in art scene in
Cagnes-sur-Mer, situated in the non-occupied zone of France. Other painters
established in Cagnes-sur-Mer were Hans Hartung and Nicolas de Staël.
In 1945-45, Yves Klein attended the Ecole du Génie Civil in Paris for one
year. But after failing the first baccalaureate exam, he was ineligible for
the Merchant Marine Academy. Subsequently, he never enrolled in an academic
institution again. Instead, he worked in a bookstore for some time and
picked up painting.
In 1947, he enrolled in judo classes at the police headquarters in Nice. It
allowed him to gain a balance between body and mind which had a lasing
influence on him. Furthermore, he met two lifelong friends, Claude Pascal
and Armand Fernandez, later known as Arman and famous for his
In 1947, Yves Klein made his first monotype imprints using his fellow
judokas' hands on wrestling mats. He composed the symphony
“Monotone-Silence”, which consisted of a single note sustained for 20 minutes,
followed by 20 minutes of silence.
In 1948-49, he served in the military in a French camp in Germany. In
October 1949, Yves and Claude Pascal moved to London where Klein worked for
a gilder and frame-maker. Yves exhibited small, rectangular monochrome
pastels on paper and cardboard in his apartment for a group of friends. In
the summertime, Klein and Pascal worked in an equestrian club in Ireland.
In 1951, Yves traveled throughout Italy and Spain and studied Spanish in
Nice. The following year, he discovered Japan. During his 15-months-stay, he
earned a black belt in judo in Japan's most prestigious judo center. Klein
hoped to introduce Europe to the mindset and techniques he had learned. To
make a living, he gave French lessons to American and Japanese students. He
invited friends to his exhibition of small monochrome paintings in his flat.
In addition he organized an exhibition of his parents' work at the Institute
Franco-Japonais, the Kamakura Museum of Modern Art and the Bridgestone
Gallery in Tokyo.
In 1954, Yves Klein returned to Paris, where his judo diploma was not
recognized by the French Federation of Judo. Together with Pascal, he moved
to Madrid where he worked as a technical supervisor and teacher at the
Spanish Federation of Judo. In November, he published two booklets
“plates” of his monochromes. In addition, he published a book on the foundations
of judo and created a storyboard for a film entitled La Guerre (de la
ligne et de la couleur) ou (vers la proposition monochrome), which
explored the conflict between line and color throughout the history of art.
The film was never realized.
In 1955, Klein moved back to Paris, where he opened a judo school, which he
also used as a studio and a gallery. The same year, at the showroom of the
Lacoste publishing house, Yves got his first exhibition of monochromes in
various colors. In this occasion, he met the art critic Pierre Restany for
the first time.
In 1956, his Propositions Monochromes where on display at the Galerie
Colette Allendy in Paris. Pierre Restany wrote the preface. In the summer,
Yves had to close his judo school because of financial difficulties. He
destroyed the monochromes hanging there. On holiday in Nice, he decided to
use only one color, an ultramarine hue he called “International Klein Blue,
IKB”. In August, he participated in his first group exhibition. At the
Festival d'Art d'Avant-Garde in Marseille, Kleins works were exhibited together
with artworks by Jean Tinguely, Sam Francis
and Hans Hartung.
In 1957 at the Galleria Apollinaire in Milan, Yves Klein showed eleven
identical blue monochromes. The artists Piero Manzoni and Lucio Fontana not
only attended the show, Fontana also bought a blue monochrome, as did Count
Giuseppe Panza di Biumo, a notable Italian collector, who bought a red one.
In March 1957, the German architect Werner Ruhnau, impressed by Klein's
work, encouraged the artist to enter a competition to decorate the
Gelsenkirchen Opera House. In May, Yves presented a solo exhibition at the
Galerie Iris Clert and another one at the Galerie Colette Allendy, both in
Paris. The invitation to both shows were accompanied by a text by Paul
Restany and a blue stamp by Klein. At the Iris Clert opening, he released
1001 blue balloons, which he called sculpture aérostatique. In
addition, the recording by Pierre Henry of his Symphonie-Monotone-Silence
In 1957, Yves Klein also exhibited at Galerie Schmela in Düsseldorf, at
Gallery One in London, exhibiting a sponge sculpture alongside his
monochromes. Since 1956, he had begun to experiment with sponges, fascinated
by their capacity to soak up anything, above all blue color.
In the summer in Nice, he met the German Rotraut Uecker, who
would become his studio assistant and model in 1958 and his wife in 1962.
Rotkraut Uecker had fled home at seventeen and joined her brother, the
artist Gunther Uecker. Later, she secured a job as an au pair for Arman
outside of Nice, which led to her meeting with Klein. She described him
“as vibrant as his painting.”
In September 1957, together with Arman and Restany, Yves Klein signed the
“Manifesto Against Style”, shortly before his inclusion in the group exhibition
“Nuclear Art” at Galeria San Fedele in Milan. The song
“Nel blu dipinto di blu” by Domenica Modugno, inspired by Klein's monochromes,
became a hit.
In 1958, Yves' Gelsenkirchen Opera House proposal was approved. He worked on
four monumental IKB sponge reliefs and two huge IKB monochromes. It was an
attempt at enlarging painting's domain to architecture and installation.
same year, Klein conceived of the levitating tubes project and tried several
methods for illuminating the obelisk on Paris' Place de la Concorde with
On April 28, 1958 opened his show
“The Specialization of Sensibility in the Raw Material State of Stabilized
Pictorial Sensibility” (La Spécialisation de la sensibilité à l'état de
matière première en sensibilité picturale stabilisée) mostly referred to
as “The Void” (Le vide). 2500 guests attended the opening at Galerie
Iris Clert in Paris. Police and firemen were called to disperse the crowd.
The Void was one of the first installations in art history, the presentation
of the empty white interior of the commercial gallery. Someone rightly
stated that The Void was a kind
of state where perception was liberated from materiality.
In May, Klein wrote his
“Blue Revolution” manifestos and other texts included in
“My Book”, including a letter to President Eisenhower. On June 5, 1958 he first
“living brushes” at the home of Robert Godet, using naked women to apply paint
to canvas. In 1960, Pierre Restany coined the term Anthropometry for these
In the summer of 1958, Klein moved to the artist area of Montparnasse in
Paris, where he would live until his death from a third heart attack in
In September 1958, Klein made his first pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint
Rita in Cascia (Italy), together with his aunt, where he made the votive
offering of an IKB monochrome (Ex-voto dédié à sainte Rita de Cascia par
In November 1958, Klein and Tinguely had a joint exhibition at Galerie Iris
Clert entitled Pure Velocity and Monochrome Stability.
In 1959, he announced in a lecture at the Sorbonne that:
“Blue, gold and pink are of the same nature. Any exchange at the level of these
three states is honest.” It meant the re-entry of colors into his work. He
participated in several group exhibitions, including
“Works in Three Dimensions” at
Gallery in New York, which included works by Jasper Johns, Robert
Rauschenberg and others.
On the banks of the Seine on November 18, 1959 Yves Klein made his first
sale of a “zone of immaterial pictorial sensibility” to Peppino Palazzoli.
On December 15, he attended the opening of the Gelsenkirchen Opera House.
The same month, he published his book Overcoming the Problematics of Art
and stopped teaching judo.
In 1960, he participated in a series of individual and group exhibitions. He
“living brushes” technique, which he used widely, as well as
“IKB”. That summer, he executed his first Cosmogonies at Cagnes-sur-Mer, marks
of states-moments of nature, the erosion of time and the elements, dust,
rain and wind. He participated in The New Realists show at Galleria
Apollinaire, for which he would have preferred the title The Realism of
Today. In a solo exhibition in Paris he first showed his trinity of colors:
blue, gold and pink. His Leap into the Void was photographed. Still
in 1960, Arman, Tinguely, Klein and others signed the founding manifesto of
their artistic group The New Realists (Les Nouveaux Réalistes).
In 1961 Klein held his first Fire Paintings session at the Centre d'Essais
du Gaz de France testing center in Paris. Later in March he traveled with
Rotraut to New York for the exhibition
“Yves Klein the Monochrome” at Leo Castelli Gallery, which got a bad reception,
which led Klein to write his
“Chelsea Hotel Manifesto” to explain himself.
In Paris in May and June 1961, he participated in the group exhibition
“40 Degrees Above Dada”, organized by Pierre Restany, who drafted a second
manifesto, equating The New Realists with the legacy of Dada, to which Yves
Klein vehemently objected. On October 8, Yves Klein, Martial Raysse and
Raymond Hains declared the group defunct.
In Los Angeles in May and June 1961, Klein exhibited in public for the first
time a monogold sponge relief. On July 12, the artist signed a contract to
be featured in Gualtiero Jacopetti's film Mondo Cane. The
Anthropometry sequences were shot July 17 and 18. On July 19, Klein
conducted his last Fire Painting session at Gaz de France because the
center's director withdrew the permission for future experiments upon
learning the Klein was using naked models. Together with Rotraut he
vacationed in Nice before they made a third pilgrimage to Cascia,
leaving another votive offering. In November at Galleria Apollinaire in
Milan opened a Klein retrospective which included the first public viewing
of Klein's planetary reliefs.
In January 21, 1962, Yves Klein and Rotraut Uecker married at a church in
Paris, with Klein orchestrating every detail of their wedding, choosing a
blue tiara for his wife and having his Symphonie-Monotone-Silence
played in the nave. The Knights of the Order of Saint Sebastian participated
in full regalia.
In February 1962, Klein made plaster casts of Arman, Martial Raysse and
Claude Pascal with the intention of doing relief portraits of the
Nouveaux Réalistes, but only the sculpture of Arman was completed.
In March, Klein executed a Scroll Poem which was later exhibited in Paris.
In May he attended the premiere of Mondo Cane at the Cannes Film
Festival. He was horrified to discover the way he was presented in the movie
and, therefore, suffered a heart attack. Three days later, he attended a
group exhibition in Paris, where he suffered another heart attack.
On June 6, 1962
Yves Klein died from a third heart attack. He is buried next to his mother and aunt
at the cemetery at La Colle-sur-Loup. His son Yves was born two months after
In just eight years, from 1954 to 1962, Yves Klein transformed the art world
with his paintings, sculptures, photography, architecture, music, writing,
dance, theater, cinema, conceptual art, installations, performance and
His widow Rotraut Klein-Moquay said in an interview that her
late husband had “wanted to create something immaterial and to bring energy,
love, and maybe even God to art.”
Yves Klein books at Amazon.com
- Yves Klein books at Amazon.co.uk.
Understanding Yves Klein and his art with the help of the exhibition
catalogue Yves Klein: With
the Void, Full Powers
The exhibition curators Kerry Brougher (Deputy Director and Chief Curator at
the Hirshorn) and Philippe Vergne (Director at the Dia Art Foundation) point
out in their acknowledgement to the 2010-Klein-catalogue that, in 1954, the
unknown and obscure
Yves Klein entered the art world with a bang. Yves Peintures was one
of the most radical works of the your artist. It consisted of a portfolio of
ten tipped-in color plates and a preface by his friend Claude Pascal. Each
plate was captioned with “Yves” and a city name, suggestion that
these were artworks done by Klein in those cities during his travels. In
reality, the plates are commercially colored papers and not reproductions.
The works never existed in reality, but only as concepts in the mind of the
artist. The preface conceived by Klein himself rather than Pascal consisted
of a series of lines instead of an actual text. According to Brougher and
Vergne, this was an early comment by the artist on the impossibility of
explaining his art. Fooling the audience and playing with illusions was part
of his performance.
Yves Klein wanted to radically reinvent what art could be in the postwar
world. He shifted the focus from the material artwork to the
“immaterial sensibility”. Albert Camus wrote in the visitor book to Klein's
“Void” exhibition at Iris Clert's gallery: “Avec le vide, les pleins
pouvoirs” [With the void, full powers], according to the
“encapsulating succinctly both the artist's agenda and his legacy”.
The curators of the first Klein-retrospective since 1982
“not only attempted to investigate Klein a the maker of beautiful objects, but
also as a thinker and philosopher of contemporary life whose works paved the
way for future generations.”
In his catalogue essay, “Involuntary Painting”, Kerry Brougher points out
that Yves Klein began his quest for a new kind of painting in 1947 when, on
the beach with Arman and Claude Pascal, he proclaimed
“the blue sky is my first artwork”.
At the age of 20, Klein embarked on his
“monochrome adventure”, rejecting representational reading or material
sensibility. Being a mere painter was not going to be enough for the man who
had studied the mystical society of Rosicrucianism as well as Zen Buddhism.
On the ruins of the Second World War, he wanted to
“reinvent art as a positive activity with a renewed social and spiritual
underpinning, and to create an expanded and expansive form of art-making”.
Brougher writes that for Klein,
“[b]oth the act of painting and the physical objects were problems”. The artist
asserted that his works were not traditional paintings but rather
“beyond what is visible”. His art was not about physical objects, but about
moving the viewer to another state.
Klein elevated color over line. He wanted to move beyond abstract painting.
Painting could no longer be just a
“static object, but must be a kind of performance, a dramatic device that
interacts with the audience” (Brougher).
Yves Klein wrote about 1946 that “The 'WHY NOT' in the life of a man is
what decides everything, it is destiny.” With his show at the Club
Solitaire of the Lacoste publishing house in October 1955, Klein's new
approach to art was recognized by the young art critic Pierre Restany and
who would form a
“partnership” with the artist to promote this knew kind of art, which was
beneficial to both, the critic and the artist.
Yves Klein rejected art informel and went even further than Malevich
with his Black Square. For him, it was not about an image anymore. He
wanted to go beyond a
“readable painting”. Brougher writes that, for Klein,
“the cage was painting itself and its reliance on representation and earthly
concerns”. For Klein, Malevich's painted image of the monochrome could not
get beyond making an illustration, even if it was abstract.
Klein's Blue Revolution challenged
“the fiduciary and fetishist structure of the art world” (Philippe Vergne). This
became manifest when he assigned different prices to a series of identical
paintings exhibited at Galleria Apollinaire in Milan in 1957. Restany tried
to tie Klein to Giotto. Critics attacked the Apollinaire show, but one
critic, Dino Buzzatti, wrote an article entitled
“Blu, Blu, Blu”, which established Klein's notoriety.
With his Propositions exposed in 1956, Klein, in his own words,
“attempted to attain that degree of contemplation where color becomes full and
pure sensibility.” He asserted that
“we are living in the atomic age, where all physical matter can vanish from one
day to the next to surrender its place to what we can envision as the
most abstract. I believe that for the painter there exists a sensuous and
colored matter that is intangible... It is no longer a question of seeing
color but rather of 'perceiving' it”.
For Klein, his art was no longer merely a byproduct of an individual. It
rather transcended the artist. He distanced himself from the actual act of
painting. He rejected brushes and applied the color with the flesh of his
models in his Anthropometries. During his performances, he dressed
elegantly, undercutting the concept of the bohemian artist (Brougher).
He made paintings without having to paint. The darker side of his new art
was the shadow of the Second World War and its massive destruction. It was
reminiscent of the human shadows imprinted after the nuclear attack on
Hiroshima. Klein's Hiroshima dated from 1961.
According to his future wife Rotraut Uecker, Lein got the idea of his
Fire Paintings during a New York visit at Larry Rivers' studio. After
Rivers had fallen asleep, he experimented with candles in the dark room. He
disrobed Rotraut and posed her in front of a large mirror, studying the
light and reflection. The glow of the candles against flesh in the darkness,
as seen in the mirror, gave him the idea of using painting not as an object
but as a mirror, a transportation of the mind into another world (Brougher).
In 1961 at the Museum Haus Lange in Krefeld, Klein had his most extensive
show to date, displaying monochromes, sponge sculptures, Anthropometries,
creating a wall of fire and two fountains of fire in the garden. He created
“indigo magic-hour” (Brougher). Once again, painting without painting was
the result of his work with fire. Klein himself stated: “My paintings
are the 'ashes' of my art”. And:
“my paintings are not my definitive works. They are the leftovers of a creative
“...Klein employed destruction in order to annihilate the damaging potential
of society and to replace it with a constructive future” (Brougher).
For more details and insights, read the
highly recommendable book Yves Klein: With
the Void, Full Powers. 2010,
Hatje Cantz, 2010, 352 pages, 366 photos (163 in color). It is the main
source for this article. The catalogue was published on the occasion of the exhibition Yves Klein: With the
Void, Full Powers organized by Kerry Brougher and Philippe Vergne for the
Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. from May 20 to
September 12, 2010 and for the
Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, from October 23, 2010 to
February 13, 2011. The exhibition presents some 200 works by Yves Klein. Order the
English exhibition catalogue from
This article is based on the highly recommendable book Yves Klein: With the
Void, Full Powers, 2010, Hatje Cantz,
2010, 352 pages, 366 photos (163 in color). Published on the occasion of the exhibition Yves Klein: With the
Void, Full Powers organized by Kerry Brougher and Philippe Vergne for the Hirshorn Museum and
Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. from May 20 to September 12, 2010 and
for the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis,
Minnesota, from October 23, 2010 to February 13, 2011. Order the English
exhibition catalogue from