‘Yves chooses madder rose… Having thus acquired the third element, Yves Klein, can, from now on, present the cosmological trilogy of personal transmutation of colours: ultramarine-blue IKB, gold, and pink… The transfer to monopink in the monochrome trilogy is revealing. Madder rose represents the Holy Spirit before the gold of the Father and the blue of the Son; gold for immateriality and blue for sensibility’ (P. Restany, Fire at the Heart of the Void, New York 2005, pp. 24-26).
Sculpture-éponge rose sans titre (SE 204) is one of only six extremely rare examples of Yves Klein’s celebrated Sculptures éponges documented in Paul Wember’s 1969 catalogue raisonné to be executed in the artist’s transcendental madder rose shade and which is positioned above a natural stone base. Bursting forth from its shimmering stone platform on a slender stem of the same rose hue, SE 204 inclines gently to one side, as though a flower caught in a rippling gust of wind. A very rare, natural support in the artist’s oeuvre, the terrestrial material of the stone base exists in exquisite dichotomy with the sponge’s ethereal form. Suffused with a concentration of deep pink pigment, the topography of craters and crevices that distinguish the material are charged with a sense of movement and growth, evocative of the sponge’s former life on the ocean floor. Imbued with an aura of otherworldliness, Klein’s Sculptures éponges represent a seminal motif in the artist’s practice: at once of Klein’s immaterial world and of the sea, they are reminiscent of forests of coral swaying hypnotically underwater. Constantly transforming with the incidence of light that brilliantly illuminates the sponge’s infinitely complex structure, SE 204 inducts the viewer into Klein’s immaterial adventure. Encapsulating Klein’s journey into the void, SE 204 is a work of outstanding beauty, anticipating the spiritual symbolism of the colour pink in his work, which would reach a triumphant climax the following year in Klein’s masterpiece, le Rose du bleu (RE 22), 1960. Klein’s preoccupation with sponge as artistic medium would last from 1959 until his untimely death in 1962, representing a complete expression of the concept of immateriality that lay at the heart of his profoundly experimental oeuvre. The work was exhibited in Klein’s acclaimed retrospective, Yves Klein 1928-1962, at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, in 1969.
As early as 1956 Yves Klein began to perceive the absorbent potential of sponge as a way of distancing the artist’s hand in the production of his monochrome paintings. Bringing the invisible into the visible, the immaterial into the material, saturated in pigment the sponge reflected the minds of his viewers infused with immaterial pictorial sensibility. For Klein, it was the perfect symbol for man’s capacity to absorb and understand the void’s infinite capacity. ‘While working on my paintings in my studio,’ he recalled, ‘I sometimes used sponges. Evidently, they very quickly turned blue! One day I perceived the beauty of blue in the sponge, this working tool all of a sudden became a primary medium for me. The sponge has that extraordinary capacity to absorb and become impregnated with whatever fluid, which was naturally very seductive to me. Thanks to the natural and living nature of sponges, I was able to make portraits to the readers of my monochromes, which, after having seen and travelled into the blue of my paintings, returned from them completely impregnated with sensibility, just as the sponges’ (Y. Klein, in Overcoming the Problematics of Art: The Writings of Yves Klein, New York 2007, p. 22). In 1959, Iris Clert held an exhibition of Klein’s Sculptures éponges and monochromes at her gallery in Paris. Entitled Bas-Reliefs dans une forêt d’éponges, visitors found themselves immersed in an otherworldly forest, a mystical environment that envisaged a new immaterial landscape. The transcendental sense of communion between artwork and viewer that Klein sought to establish in all his work and which the all absorbing sponge encapsulated and symbolised for him, appeared to be taking place all around them.
Impregnated with rose pink pigment, SE 204 indicates the prevalence of Yves Klein’s triadic colour spectrum - International Klein Blue, gold and rose – from early on in his career. Unlike his patented IKB, Klein had a broader definition of rose, using the term interchangeably with pink and crimson and using various different shades of pigment in his monopink works (S. Sitch, Yves Klein, exh. cat., Museum Ludwig, Cologne, 1994, p. 198). Reflecting the spiritual trinity encapsulated in Klein’s colour theory, Pierre Restany wrote of the crucial importance of the colour pink to Klein: ‘Yves chooses madder rose… Having thus acquired the third element, Yves Klein, can, from now on, present the cosmological trilogy of personal transmutation of colours: ultramarine-blue IKB, gold, and pink … The transfer to monopink in the monochrome trilogy is revealing. Madder rose represents the Holy Spirit before the gold of the Father and the blue of the Son; gold for immateriality and blue for sensibility’ (P. Restany, Fire at the Heart of the Void, New York, 2005, pp. 24-26). Anticipating the rose tinted Reliefs planétaires, Klein’s pink sponge pays tribute to the connection the artist made between cosmology and spirituality. Made very much within the context of the space age, much of Klein’s aesthetic centred around gnostic and alchemical conceptions. In this context, the ‘savage living material’ of the saturated sponge offered itself as the perfect natural symbol of mediation between the immaterial realm of the spirit and the material world of nature. Capable of subsuming a variety of high density elements, from sand and grit, to water and air, the sponge when saturated with Klein’s iconic pink paint represents the consummate articulation of his notions of a base, elemental material being impregnated with a higher dimensional essence.