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Yves Klein 1928-1962
Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers. Order the book - the excellent source for this article - from,,, or

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 “accumulations”.

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 containing “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 was played.

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 later as “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.

Later the same year, Klein conceived of the levitating tubes project and tried several methods for illuminating the obelisk on Paris' Place de la Concorde with blue light.

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 experimented with “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 artworks.

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 1962.

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 Yves Klein).

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 Leo Castelli 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 patented his “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 his death.

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 happenings.

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 - Yves Klein books at

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 curators “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 an
“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 process.”

“...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,,, or

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,,, or

Deutsch Politik Geschichte Kunst Film Musik Lebensart Reisen
English Politics History Art Film Music Lifestyle Travel
Français Politique Histoire Arts Film Musique Artdevivre Voyages

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© Copyright  Louis Gerber  All rights reserved.