Yves Klein (1928-1962)
Yves Klein (1928-1962)
Yves Klein (1928-1962)
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Yves Klein (1928-1962)

Relief Éponge bleu sans titre (RE 37)

Yves Klein (1928-1962)
Relief Éponge bleu sans titre (RE 37)
signed, inscribed with the artist's monogram and dated ‘Yves 59’ (on the reverse)
dry pigment and synthetic resin on natural sponges on board
10 7/8 x 13 ¾ x 4 1/8 in. (27.6 x 34.9 x 10.5 cm.)
Executed in 1959.
Helmut Klinker, Bochum
Galerie Alfred Schmela, Düsseldorf
Private collection, Germany
Private collection, Berlin, circa 2007
Anon. sale; Christie's, London, 6 March 2018, lot 42
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
P. Wember, Yves Klein, Cologne, 1969, p. 83, no. RE 37 (illustrated).
Special notice
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.

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Emily Kaplan
Emily Kaplan Senior Vice President, Senior Specialist, Co-Head of 20th Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

The celebrated “reliefs éponges, or sponge-reliefs, that Yves Klein created during his brief, but intense, nine-year career, are among his most important contributions to the field of postwar art. Taking the two-dimensional field of his blue monochromes and extending them, physically and metaphorically, into the three-dimensional gallery space, they express Klein’s quest for the mystical unknowable quality of the universe—what he called the “Immaterial” or the “Void.”
With its clustered aggregation of natural sea sponges, drenched in the signature ultramarine blue he later patented as “International Klein Blue,” Relief Éponge bleu sans titre (RE 37) is a powerful work from a key moment in Klein’s career. Executed in 1959, it dates to the first debut of the reliefs éponges at the Galerie Iris Clert in Paris. For this groundbreaking exhibition, Klein planned and designed an immersive gallery installation that playfully brought the viewer into a “forest” of sponge-reliefs containing both wall reliefs and standing sponge sculptures of varying heights and sizes. Taking the concept of the sponge as a living metaphor into three dimensions, Klein immersed the viewer into its world, thereby coming ever closer to penetrating the immaterial and unknowable void.
Despite its conceptual origins, Relief Éponge bleu sans titre is also simply a beautiful physical object, saturated with the distinct aquamarine blue that has become Klein’s signature color. Its velvety texture begs to be touched, as the ambient gallery light falls over the many channels, divots and craters of its organic surface. Just as Barnett Newman harnessed the optical power of blue pigment to evoke the immeasurable, the dense accumulation of sponges seem to multiply before our eyes, bubbling outward into the gallery space as if part of some mysterious, chemical chain reaction. The fathomless depths of the deep blue ocean and the mysterious creatures that lurk beneath its surface are all evoked, as if summoned from the depths, in ancient, infinite, and mysterious ways.
Klein sourced the sponges from his friend Edouard Adam, in Montparnasse, who also famously helped to develop “International Klein Blue.” Adam had a variety of natural sea sponges in his shop window, and Klein became obsessed with them, even sourcing the sponges from different suppliers as far away as Greece and Tunisia. He used them to apply paint, which allowed him to achieve the sleek, monochromatic surface of the Monochromes, but also became fascinated with their incredible porous quality. “‘While working on my paintings in my studio, I sometimes used sponges,” he would later explain. “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” (Y. Klein, quoted in “Notes on Certain Works Exhibited at the Colette Allendy Gallery,” in Yves Klein, Overcoming the Problems of Art: The Writings of Yves Klein, Spring Publications, New York, 2007, p. 22).
Throughout his career, Klein searched for ways in which to describe the immaterial world beyond the everyday. The sponges, then, seemed perfectly suited to the mystical relationship between Klein’s artworks and his viewer, as they were seen to be miraculous creatures - capable of filling with water, sand and air simultaneously. This conceptually helped to bring the viewer into closer communion physically and spiritually with Klein’s work. "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," he explained (Y. Klein, quoted in S. Stich, Yves Klein, Ostfildern, 1994, p. 165).
Indeed, the sponge-reliefs could bring the viewer into closer communion with the art object, bringing them into an almost mystical harmony, as embodied by the porous nature of the sponge itself. As in the present work, the accumulation of sponges protrude outward from their painterly support to penetrate the surrounding three-dimensional space, coming closer to the viewer than mere painting alone. This proximity is heightened by the color blue, which Klein understood to have “no dimensions,” existing “outside the dimensions that are part of other colors" (Y. Klein, quoted in O. Berggruen, M. Hollein, and I. Pfeiffer, eds., Yves Klein, exh. cat., Ostfildern-Ruit, 2004, p. 48). Thus, married to the color blue, the porous, pregnable sponge, could come closer than ever to absorbing the viewer more fully into the work of art, thereby bridging the divide between the everyday world and the Immaterial.
In 1957, Klein submitted the winning proposal for an international competition to plan the interior of the Gelsenkirchen Opera House. This was a prestigious commission that helped to further establish his reputation in Germany in the postwar period. The winning commission would include six enormous blue sponge-relief panels, which he called a "blue tapestry woven with sponges" (Y. Klein, quoted in S. Stich, op. cit., 1994, p. 114). The Gelsenkirchen opened to great critical acclaim in December of 1959, and for the next several years, until his untimely death in 1962, Klein enjoyed favorable status in Germany. The present work, in fact, was once owned by the esteemed collector Helmut Klinker, who was instrumental in bringing contemporary art to the town of Bochum, just outside Dϋsseldorf, in the postwar years.
As exemplified by Relief Éponge bleu sans titre (RE 37), Klein’s express desire was to channel the essence of life, and of the wider universe through art. It is with works such as this that we witness the full range of his mystic vision, in which he conveyed the fleeting vitality of human life, dissolved of any individual identity, finally floating free within the wider cosmos.

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