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YVES KLEIN (1928-1962)

Untitled Blue Monochrome (IKB 266)

YVES KLEIN (1928-1962)
Untitled Blue Monochrome (IKB 266)
dry pigment and synthetic resin on gauze mounted on panel
4½ x 6¾in. (11 x 17cm.)
Executed in 1957
Galerie Iris Clert, Paris.
Collection Helene Lassaigne, Paris.
Galerie 1900-2000, Paris.
Galerie Gmurzynska, Zurich.
Private Collection, London.
Anon. sale, Christie's London, 3 October 2017, lot 61.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Paris, Galerie Iris Clert, Micro-Salon d’Avril, 1957.
Further details
This work is registered in the Yves Klein Archive under the archive number IKB 266.

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Lot Essay

‘In truth, the great Elements we know of, are no mean comforters: the open sky sits upon our senses like a sapphire crown — the Air is our robe of state — the Earth is our throne, and the Sea a mighty minstrel playing before it — able, like David’s harp, to make such a one as you forget almost the tempest cares of life’

‘The monochrome propositions of Yves KLEIN secure the sculptural destiny of pure pigment today. This grand history of the blue period will be retraced simultaneously on the walls of Colette Allendy and Iris Clert. RESTANY’

Included in Galerie Iris Clert’s groundbreaking Micro-Salon d’Avril in 1957 – the gallery’s first major exhibition – Untitled Blue Monochrome (IKB 266) is an exquisite, diminutive example of the monochrome works that form the cornerstone of the artist’s entire output. Executed in Klein’s signature blue pigment IKB or ‘International Klein Blue’, with their highly-pigmented, deeply-saturated surfaces, Klein’s IKB monochromes were the first and purest material expressions of the mystic, immaterial void that he believed lay at the heart of man’s existence. His unique azure pigment was so intense that the artist believed it had the power to induce an extrasensory experience in the viewer, allowing them to transcend their physical being and momentarily glimpse the inarticulate ‘zone of immateriality’ that lay beyond the confines of the human imagination. Although Untitled Blue Monochrome (IKB 266) is barely more than six inches across, its rippling, vivid hue seems to elide size entirely, offering an electrifying glimpse of the infinite.

First conceived in 1957, the same year that this work was executed, Klein’s IKB monochromes were so central to his oeuvre that the artist came to personally identify with them, often referring to himself as ‘Yves le Monochrome’ and characterising his art as ‘the Monochrome Adventure’. Unlike his forebears Kazimir Malevich and Ad Reinhardt, who considered the monochrome the logical conclusion of painting, Klein saw pure colour as a portal to an undiscovered spiritual dimension. As he explained, ‘[I] can no longer approve of a “readable” painting ... [eyes were] made not to read a painting, but, rather, to see it. PAINTING is colour’ (Y. Klein, quoted in K. Brougher, ‘Involuntary Painting’, in Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers, exh. cat., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C., 2010, p. 26). By limiting himself to a single, highly-concentrated pigment, devoid of expression, Klein sought a new, experiential purpose for art. His monochromes were no longer windows onto the physical world, but rather gateways to the invisible spatial realm that underpinned our very being.

Upon first meeting Iris Clert in 1955, the then-unknown Klein persuaded Clert to keep a small orange painting of his as a trial run. She displayed this monochrome in the corner of the one-room gallery; it proved a success, and upon Klein’s return, Clert invited him to exhibit more of his monochromes, including the present work, in the gallery’s exhibition Micro-Salon d’Avril (Micro-Salon of April) in April 1957. This show consisted of over 250 artworks, each no larger than a postcard, by 120 artists including Klein, Picasso and Max Ernst. The exhibition gained the small one-room gallery considerable notoriety amongst the avant-garde of Paris, and the single-concept-driven approach would become a distinguishing characteristic of the Galerie Iris Clert. Following this striking debut, Clert gave Klein a triumphant solo show in May 1957, which featured a march from the gallery to the famous Left Bank café Aux Deux Magots, where 1,001 blue balloons were released. Klein would stage several other important exhibitions at Clert’s gallery over the following years until his death in 1962, including the famous Bas-reliefs dans une forêt d’éponges (1959), which featured a number of 'Sponge Sculptures' and 'Sponge Reliefs'.

For Klein, colour was not a representative tool, but rather a real, living presence that had the power to impregnate its surroundings and absorb its onlookers. The purer the colour, he believed, the more it might overcome its own material boundaries, dispersing into space and transporting the viewer into the void. His quest for this radical and transcendental mode of painting began in 1947 when, sitting on a rocky beach in Nice beside his friends Arman and Claude Pascal, he suddenly declared, ‘the blue sky is my first artwork’ (Y. Klein, quoted by Arman in T. McEvilley, ‘Yves Klein: Conquistador of the Void’, in Yves Klein 1928-1962: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Institute for the Arts, Rice University, Houston, 1982, p. 46). Having grown up surrounded by the deep azure of the Mediterranean, Klein considered blue to be the most immaterial of all colours, infused with the infinity of sea and sky. ‘Blue has no dimensions’, he wrote. ‘All colors bring forth associations of concrete, material, and tangible ideas, while blue evokes all the more the sea and the sky, which are what is most abstract in tangible and visible nature’ (Y. Klein, quoted in ‘Speech to the Gelsenkirchen Theater Commission’, in Overcoming the Problematics of Art: The Writings of Yves Klein, New York 2007, p. 41). Embarking on what he termed the ‘Blue Revolution’, Klein sought a tone that would radiate with an intensity appropriate for the mystic energy it harboured. After much experimentation, he devised the purest ultramarine hue possible, and had the colour officially patented in his name - ‘International Klein Blue’. Adamant that the application of this colour to canvas should leave no material trace, Klein abandoned paint for pure pigment – a substance which preserved the radiance of the colour. Against the backdrop of the Second World War and its aftermath, Klein felt the need to overcome society’s deep existential anxiety by reinventing art as a means of positive spiritual release. Much of this influence came from the artist’s awareness of eastern philosophy – Klein had spent a year in Japan. Arriving in Paris in 1955, he began to refer to himself as ‘Messenger of the Blue Void’. In 1957, as well as participating in Clert’s Micro-Salon d’Avril, he held his landmark show Proposte Monochrome/epoca blu at the Galleria Apollinaire in Milan. For the exhibition, the artist assembled eleven equally-sized monochrome blue canvases supported on poles, floating a short distance away from the wall. In spite of their similar dimensions and surfaces, Klein proceeded to price each work differently. As he later rationalised, ‘each blue world presented a completely different essence and atmosphere with a pictorial quality perceptible by something other than the material and physical appearance’ (Y. Klein, quoted Yves Klein, exh. cat., Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, Frankfurt, 2004, p. 19). Lucio Fontana – whose own Spatialist philosophies resonated with Klein’s pursuit of the immaterial – famously purchased one of the works. Upon his return Klein showed a number of these works at Galerie Iris Clert and at the gallery of his friend Colette Alendy. In the catalogue for the exhibition, the critic Pierre Restany wrote what has now become a legendary appreciation of colour in Klein’s work. ‘Blue dominates, reigns, lives’, he asserted. ‘It is the Blue-King of the most definitive of surmounted frontiers, the Blue of the frescoes of Assisi. This full void, this nothing which encloses Everything Possible, this supernatural asthenic silence of colour which finally, beyond anecdote and formal pretext, makes the formal grandeur of a Giotto’ (P. Restany, quoted in K. Brougher, ‘Involuntary Painting’, Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers, exh. cat., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C., 2010, p. 27).