BOLT FROM THE BLUE

The vivid cre­ations of Yves Klein are set to elec­trify the hal­lowed gal­leries of Blen­heim

Harper's Bazaar (UK) - - Contents - By FRANCES HEDGES

Yves Klein stirs up stately Blen­heim Palace

‘ We love to con­tem­plate blue, not be­cause it ad­vances to us, but be­cause it draws us af­ter it,’ wrote Goethe in his 1810 The­ory of Colours. That text was pub­lished 150 years be­fore Yves Klein patented In­ter­na­tional Klein Blue, the syn­thetic ul­tra­ma­rine pig­ment that was to be­come his artis­tic sig­na­ture. Yet there can be no bet­ter proof of Goethe’s hy­poth­e­sis than the in­tox­i­cat­ing al­lure of the works from Klein’s blue epoch, whose in­fi­nite va­ri­ety com­pels the viewer to look ever more closely, tee­ter­ing on the bor­der of the sub­lime.

Some of those mas­ter­pieces are now set to go on dis­play as part of a land­mark ex­hi­bi­tion at Blen­heim Palace cel­e­brat­ing 90 years since the artist’s birth. The lat­est in an an­nual se­ries that has pre­vi­ously fea­tured Ai Wei­wei, Lawrence Weiner, Michelan­gelo Pis­to­letto and Jenny Holzer, the show will be the UK’s most com­pre­hen­sive Klein ret­ro­spec­tive to date. Vis­i­tors wan­der­ing through the lav­ishly dec­o­rated Great Hall, Long Li­brary and Sa­loon will find the artist’s vivid monochrome paint­ings jux­ta­posed with Blen­heim’s col­lec­tion of Old Mas­ters, his mon­u­men­tal coloured screens set among the Palace’s 18th-cen­tury fur­ni­ture, and his bright blue, clas­si­cally in­spired sculp­tures sit­ting along­side mar­ble stat­ues of dukes and duchesses past.

The project is am­bi­tious in its scope, says Daniel Mo­quay, who man­ages the Yves Klein Es­tate in col­lab­o­ra­tion with his wife Ro­traut, Klein’s widow and an artist in her own right. ‘It isn’t easy mar­ry­ing Yves’ work with pieces from the 17th and 18th cen­tury,’ he ad­mits. ‘We’re not writ­ing some­thing on a white page – the page is al­ready very busy.’ Klein him­self would surely have been the first to take on the chal­lenge, how­ever. As the Blen­heim Art Foun­da­tion’s di­rec­tor Michael Frahm points out, ‘his way of think­ing was that ev­ery­thing is pos­si­ble, that there are no lim­its’. So pow­er­ful was this con­vic­tion that, at the age of 19, while ly­ing on the beach in Nice and gaz­ing up­wards into the heav­ens, he claimed the blue sky as his debut work of art, later call­ing it his ‘great­est and most beau­ti­ful’ achievement.

Klein’s pe­cu­liar brand of ab­so­lutism bears all the hall­marks of re­li­gious faith; without nec­es­sar­ily re­main­ing loyal to a sin­gle be­lief sys­tem, he was deeply spir­i­tual in his out­look, as well as be­ing at­tracted to rit­ual. Brought up a Catholic, he was also a mem­ber of a Chris­tian fra­ter­nity, cor­re­sponded with a Rosi­cru­cian group in Cal­i­for­nia and was fas­ci­nated by the Zen philoso­phies he en­coun­tered dur­ing the years he spent study­ing judo in Ja­pan. This com­pul­sive quest for some­thing be­yond the phys­i­cal man­i­fested it­self in his art, through which he sought to trans­port him­self and the viewer into a higher state of be­ing. ‘Pure, ex­is­ten­tial space was reg­u­larly wink­ing at me, each time in a more im­pres­sive man­ner, and this sen­sa­tion of to­tal free­dom at­tracted me,’ he wrote of his early ex­per­i­ments with paint­ing in monochrome.

Klein’s sub­se­quent ‘An­thro­pom­e­try’ se­ries of works, in which he used naked women sponged in blue as hu­man paint­brushes, are per­haps best un­der­stood in the con­text of his in­ter­est in re­li­gious cer­e­mony. In our more en­light­ened times, it’s hard not to look crit­i­cally at the idea of a male artist di­rect­ing a se­ries of nude mod­els to press them­selves against the can­vas, but Klein him­self was gen­uinely dis­tressed by ac­cu­sa­tions of las­civ­i­ous­ness (in fact, he suf­fered his first heart at­tack at the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val of 1962 af­ter watching a doc­u­men­tary that pre­sented his work in this light). In his view, per­for­mance was a way of em­pow­er­ing artists to be­come not merely mak­ers but also stage man­agers, chore­og­ra­phers and ring­mas­ters. Un­like the Ab­stract Ex­pres­sion­ists, who be­lieved in the spon­ta­neous brilliance of an in­di­vid­ual, Klein placed his cre­ations at one re­move. ‘De­tached and dis­tant, the work of art must com­plete it­self be­fore my eyes and under my com­mand,’ he said of the ‘An­thro­pom­e­try’ paint­ings.

‘We see a lot of con­cep­tual art these days, but you have to re­mem­ber Klein was at the be­gin­ning – he was a pioneer,’ says An­to­nia Jolles, the Blen­heim Art Foun­da­tion’s se­nior ex­hi­bi­tions man­ager. ‘There’s a lit­tle bit of Klein in ev­ery­thing.’ In­deed, as well

as be­ing a fore­run­ner to the pop art move­ment and an in­spi­ra­tion for per­for­mance artists past and present, he has in­flu­enced the worlds of fash­ion (Cé­line’s spring/sum­mer 2017 col­lec­tion fea­tured dresses and ac­ces­sories im­printed with his hall­mark blue), the­atre and mu­sic. Al­though there is no ev­i­dence the two ever knew each other, John Cage for­mu­lated his fa­mous silent com­po­si­tion 4’33” in the late 1940s as Klein was de­vis­ing his ground­break­ing Mono­toneSi­lence Sym­phony, a sin­gle D-ma­jor chord that is sus­tained for 20 min­utes and fol­lowed by a 20-minute si­lence.

This is min­i­mal­ism taken to the ex­treme, and a re­minder that Klein’s finest works are essen­tially in­tan­gi­ble. To cre­ate his ‘Fire’ Paint­ings, ex­am­ples of which will be on dis­play at Blen­heim, he used gas flames to mark the sur­faces of his can­vases, thereby cap­tur­ing the cre­ative force in­her­ent in an act of de­struc­tion. His quest to un­der­stand and in­habit what he called ‘the void’ also saw him ex­hibit an empty gallery and sell art­works that con­sisted solely of an ex­change of paper money for a re­ceipt, both of which were then cer­e­mo­ni­ally de­stroyed. For Mo­quay, these works are the most sig­nif­i­cant in Klein’s oeu­vre be­cause they strike at the heart of his ex­tra­or­di­nary utopian vision. ‘It can be dif­fi­cult for us to make sense of them in a world where the dol­lar sign is ev­ery­where, but Yves Klein un­der­stood that there are many im­por­tant things that can’t be ma­te­ri­alised,’ he says.

‘Without doubt it is through colour that I have lit­tle by lit­tle be­come ac­quainted with the Im­ma­te­rial,’ ex­plained Klein in his 1959 Sor­bonne lec­ture. Three years later, he died of a heart at­tack at the age of just 34, de­liv­ered pre­ma­turely into the ‘imag­i­nary be­yond, pure and in­sub­stan­tial’ of which he had spo­ken so lyri­cally dur­ing that ad­dress. This sum­mer, at Blen­heim Palace, his spirit will be res­ur­rected so that a new gen­er­a­tion can ex­pe­ri­ence the power of an artist who never feared to ven­ture into the wild blue yon­der. The Yves Klein ex­hi­bi­tion runs from 18 July to 7 October at Blen­heim Palace (www.blenheim­palace.com).

Yves Klein with his ‘Sponge Sculp­ture’ in his Paris atelier in 1960

Blen­heim Palace. Right: looks from Cé­line S/S 17

‘Un­ti­tled Sculp­ture’ (1960)

Clock­wise from right: ‘Blue Venus’ (1962). ‘Jonathan Swift’ (1960). Klein in his atelier with his ‘Blue Globe’ in 1961

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