This work is registered with the Yves Klein Archives, Paris under number RE 52. Upon de request of the purchaser, a certificate of authenticity will be issued by the archives.
"Thanks to the sponges--living, savage material--I was able to make portraits of the readers of my monochromes who, after having seen, after having travelled in the blue of my paintings, come back totally impregnated in sensibility like the sponges' -Yves Klein
Accord Bleu is one of the earliest of Yves Klein's revolutionary Reliefs éponges, his celebrated sponge reliefs. This work, with its incredibly variegated surface articulated by the application of numerous sponges, all coated in an even, deep blue, has been given the number RE 52 by the archives dedicated to the artist's work. This is one of the few examples of the Reliefs éponges to have been given a specific title: Accord bleu, which Klein would use again two years later as a title for a sponge relief now in the collection of the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, speaks of agreement within the realm of the hallowed blue that was Klein's greatest weapon in his arsenal of the metaphysical and the Immaterial. On the reverse of Accord Bleu, as well as the artist's name, title and date, is a clue to the importance of the picture. For the word 'Gelsenkirchen' is also written there. Klein's career came to be intimately entwined with the German city, and it was in relation to his epic mural project there that the Reliefs éponges such as Accord Bleu were originally conceived. It was in part the favorable reception that Klein received again and again in Germany that cemented his reputation as one of the greatest artistic pioneers of the post-war period; Accord Bleu is an important witness to this historic juncture.
The development of the Reliefs éponges such as Accord Bleu owed itself to a series of acquaintances and friendships that Klein had made. It was in May 1957 that he had met the sculptor Norbert Kricke, who had been given a show at the gallery of Iris Clert, Klein's great supporter. Kricke had visited Paris alongside the architect Werner Ruhnau. During this time, a competition was announced for suggestions of how to decorate the proposed opera house and theater being built at Gelsenkirchen. This was to be a pioneering collaboration between artists and architects. Klein was invited to join Kricke's team, submitting proposals for the interior alongside the other artists.
Around that time, Klein was also offered a one-man show to mark the inauguration of the gallery of Alfred Schmela in Düsseldorf. There, Klein showed a number of his monochromes, as he had done earlier in Milan. In Germany, these pictures sparked a heated debate and garnered much attention. Ruhnau himself acquired one of the pictures from Schmela's show, as did Paul Wember, who would later orchestrate one of Klein's most important retrospectives and assemble the catalogue raisonné that is still the authority on his work (D. Riout, Yves Klein: L'aventure monochrome, Paris, 2006, p. 43). The exhibition increased Klein's standing internationally and--crucially during the period of the joint application to work on the Gelsenkirchen project--in Germany. Some months later, Klein's team had won the Gelsenkirchen commission and began working more extensively with Ruhnau.
Klein's initial proposal was for a pair of murals, but in fact he was commissioned to create six. During 1957, he created maquettes of his first sponge reliefs. Several of these were white, as Klein had still not managed to convince the board overseeing the Gelsenkirchen development of the need to use his blue. However, those early experiments were deemed unsuccessful. It was in October 1958 that Klein returned to Gelsenkirchen to take up the mantle of the commission and truly began to develop the Reliefs éponges, bringing with him Rotraut, the sister of the artist Günther Uecker, whom he had met when she was working as a babysitter at Arman's earlier that year; she worked initially as a translator and assistant, and would later become Klein's wife.
Returning to the sponge relief format in 1958 involved a number of new developments from the first attempts. While originally he had hoped to leave the sponges soft, now he was impregnating them with plastics in order to solidify them, making them more manageable, a technique that is clear in Accord Bleu. He was using techniques developed in Gelsenkirchen and in Paris alongside Jean Tinguely--who through his introduction to Ruhnau was also commissioned to create a mobile for the opera house--and Paolo Vallorz, who had been using plastics to remodel the light-weight chassis of artist Jean-Paul Riopelle's racing car (P. Restany, Yves Klein, New York, 1982, p. 62). It was with the consolidation of these techniques that works such as Accord Bleu were made in the closing months of 1958, paving the way for Klein's creation in Gelsenkirchen of a "blue tapestry woven with sponges" (Y. Klein, quoted in S. Stich, Yves Klein, Ostfildern-Ruit, 1994, p. 114).
Klein's blue realm was designed to invoke "the invisible becoming visible," he explained. It was the color of the deep sky, which Klein himself had claimed as his first readymade artwork. "Blue has no dimensions. It exists outside the dimensions that are part of other colors" (Y. Klein, quoted in O. Berggruen, M. Hollein, I. Pfeiffer, (eds.), Yves Klein, exh. cat., Ostfildern-Ruit, 2004, p. 48). His IKB, International Klein Blue, the intense aquamarine, which he would actually patent in 1960 and which he used in many of his monochromes, has an intense, shimmering depth and presence that is made all the more absorbing because of the novel techniques he employed in order to suspend the pigment in resin. For the reliefs that he was designing for Gelsenkirchen, Klein developed a new idea for the monochrome surface that allowed him to add a depth, a variation and a sense of composition to the work: the application of sponges to the surface (other murals in the project had variegated, landscape-like surfaces that prefigured the terrain of his 'planetary reliefs'). This allowed him to create works such as Accord Bleu which, in their poise and balance, with the individual placement of each sponge, recalled the gravel and stones of the Zen gardens of Japan which he had visited some years earlier while studying his beloved Judo there.
Klein had already used the sponges in sculptures that he had created in 1957, as he had initially used them to apply his monochrome colors to the canvases such as the IKB works, before choosing a roller as his implement of choice. "It was also on this occasion that I discovered the sponge," he recounted:
"While working on my paintings in the studio, I sometimes used sponges. Very quickly they obviously became blue! One day I noticed the beauty of the blue in the sponge; in an instant this working instrument became raw material for me. It is the sponge's extraordinary capacity to impregnate itself with anything fluid that attracted me" (Y. Klein, quoted in ibid., p. 90).
For Klein, the use of the sponge encompassed a versatile range of statements, meanings and implications. Taking this natural readymade, this 'living, savage material,' he was embracing the natural world in his work. This was particularly suited to the concept of the blue itself, which Klein believed hovered between realms, creating a portal to the infinite while emerging in our own dimension: "material, physical Blue, offal and dried blood, issue of the raw material of sensibility" (Y. Klein, quoted in N. Root, "Precious Bodily Fluids," pp. 141-145, ibid., p. 142). In Accord Bleu, the individual sponges that comprise the surface and that make such an intriguing, textured otherworldly landscape harness life; at the same time, they serve as microcosms, as Klein had explained, for the saturation of sensibility within the viewer. Indeed, the role of the sponge, and its ability to be 'impregnated' by the Immaterial, had specific resonances for Klein due to his fascination with Rosicrucianism. In the first chapter of Max Heindel's important 1909 work, The Rosicrucian Cosmo-Conception, or Mystic Christianity: An Elementary Treatise Upon Man's Past Evolution, Present Constitution and Future Development, the author explained how the various dimensions of existence, ranging from the basest material order to the heights of the divine Immaterial, could exist simultaneously and in the same place by using the sponge as an illustration: the sponge can be saturated by sand and water, the latter itself containing air. This idea of the different interlacing levels of existence in the different planes of existence, with the Immaterial co-existing with our more material dimension, intrigued Klein and fueled much of his work, and it is this that he has captured in the saturated blue in the sponges of Accord Bleu.
Following from the success of reliefs such as Accord Bleu, Klein went on to create his mural scheme at Gelsenkirchen, which was opened to much acclaim in December 1959. The West German president attended the grand opening, and it received much press attention internationally. In the New York Herald Tribune, the international collaboration of architect Ruhnau and his team of painters and sculptors were celebrated in an article by Yvonne Hagen which was saved by Klein, in which she declared:
"it is the first time since the Middle Ages that a project of real importance has been executed in absolute coordination with the artists from the first draft drawings of the architect. Later discussions and changes were affected on the spot between the artist and the architect as the building took shape. According to the photographs of the finished building, the public reaction and the reviews, the experiment has been an enormous success" (Y. Hagen, "Gelsenkirchen Opera," 13 January 1960, reproduced in C. Morineau (ed.), Yves Klein: Corps, couleur, immatériel, exh. cat., Paris, 2006, p. 236).
Accord Bleu was one of the building blocks of this success. From this point onwards, Klein would carry out experiments in a number of media, even contemplating an 'architecture of air' using wind-like blasts to serve as ceilings and even potentially floors, a project he brainstormed with Ruhnau although it came to naught. Crucially, while he developed various other media during the remains of his tragically short career, the Reliefs éponges of which Accord Bleu is such an important early example remained an important facet of his output, showing its enduring appeal to the artist.