YVES KLEIN (1928-1962)
YVES KLEIN (1928-1962)
YVES KLEIN (1928-1962)
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YVES KLEIN (1928-1962)
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED PRIVATE COLLECTION
YVES KLEIN (1928-1962)

Anthropométrie de l’époque bleue, (ANT 124) (Anthropometry of the Blue Period), (ANT 124))

Details
YVES KLEIN (1928-1962)
Anthropométrie de l’époque bleue, (ANT 124) (Anthropometry of the Blue Period), (ANT 124))
indistinctly signed, inscribed and dated, ‘Yves Klein Le Monochrome Paris février 1960 Anthropométrie de l’époque bleue’ (lower right)
dry pigment and synthetic resin on paper laid down on canvas
60 3/4 x 124 3/4in. (154.5 x 317cm.)
Executed in February 1960
Provenance
Werner and Anita Ruhnau Collection, Essen.
Galerie Denise Rene´ Hans Mayer, Dusseldorf.
Private Collection, Dusseldorf.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Literature
Licht, Bewegung, Farbe, exh. cat., Nuremberg, Kunsthalle Nüremberg, 1967, p. 38, no. 37 (illustrated in colour, p. 39).
P. Wember, Yves Klein, Cologne 1969, p. 112, no. ANT 124 (illustrated).
Yves Klein 1928-1962, exh. cat., Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, 1969, p. 24 (illustrated in colour).
T. Caianiello and M. Visser (eds.), The Artist as Curator: Initiatives in the International ZERO Movement, 1957-1967, Dusseldorf 2015 (installation view illustrated, p. 333).
Exhibited
Gelsenkirchen, Künstlersiedlung Halfmannshof, Moderne Gesammelt in Gelsenkirchen, 1964.
Dusseldorf, Galerie Denise Rene´ Hans Mayer, The Top Ten, 1976 (illustrated in colour, unpaged).
Wiesbaden, Museum Wiesbaden, Wie das Gelsenkirchener Blau auf Yves Klein kam, Zur Geschichte der Zusammenarbeit zwischen Yves Klein und Werner Ruhnau, 2004–2005, p. 29 (illustrated in colour, pp. 30–31).
Neuss, Langen Foundation, Perfect Painting 40 Jahre Galerie Hans Mayer, 2005, p. 64 (illustrated in colour, pp. 64–65).
Paris, Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Yves Klein: Corps, couleur, immatériel, 2006–2007, p. 311 (illustrated in colour, pp. 144-145). This exhibition later travelled to Vienna, Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien.
Special notice
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Lot Essay

Monumental in scale, outstanding in provenance and exceptionally rare in kind, Anthropométrie de l’époque bleue, (ANT 124) is a masterwork that occupies historic territory in Yves Klein’s practice. One of only a handful of Anthropométries on this scale to remain in private ownership, its combination of eight solid blue imprints against an extraordinary dappled azure backdrop stands alone within the artist’s oeuvre.

Created in February 1960, the work is among the earliest instances of the newly-discovered technique that Klein would showcase just weeks later in his seminal performance of the same title at the Galerie Internationale d’Art Contemporain, Paris. Under the artist’s direction, female models painted their torsos in his patented ultramarine pigment—‘International Klein Blue’, or IKB—before pressing their bodies against sheets of paper. The clarity and intensity of the impression was ground-breaking: ‘these are the anthropométries of the blue period!’, exclaimed the critic Pierre Restany (P. Restany, Yves Klein, New York 1982, p. 110). The present work is one of only several to bear this title, with another held in the Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.

Originally owned by the architect Werner Ruhnau—who commissioned Klein’s legendary installation at the Gelsenkirchen Opera House—and more recently included in the artist’s major 2006 Pompidou retrospective, the work’s appearance is unrivalled. Klein only made two other known works with eight body prints, each different in style, including People Begin to Fly, (ANT 96) (Menil Collection, Houston). The painting’s hypnotic blue background, meanwhile—among the first to anticipate Klein’s later series of Cosmogonies—features in works including Anthropométrie sans titre, (ANT 110) (Louvre Abu Dhabi) and the haunting Hiroshima, (ANT 79) (Menil Collection, Houston). For Klein—who, at the height of the Space Age, had just staged his seminal ‘leap into the void’—the blue imprints seem to drift into the beyond, choreographed in a dance of pure weightlessness. The forms float freely against the shimmering expanse, as if suspended against a midnight blue sky, or lapped by a burning flame. It is an ecstatic record of one of the twentieth century’s most daring artistic projects: to seal in paint the passage from the material to the immaterial realm.

‘The Anthropométries’, wrote the critic Sidra Stich, ‘made history for Yves Klein and became a benchmark of his career’ (S. Stich, Yves Klein, exh. cat. Museum Ludwig, Cologne 1994, p. 186). With more than twenty held in museums worldwide, they represent some of the most powerful expressions of a tragically brief practice that would be curtailed by the artist’s untimely death at the age of 34. The transience of human flesh is momentarily halted in its interaction with the mysterious, unearthly properties of IKB, reborn in immaterial splendour. IKB, in turn, is given tangible, concrete form, stabilised by its encounter with the mortal realm. As women artists began to use their bodies in new and empowered ways during the 1960s, the work represents a unique creative partnership between artist and model: the imprints of the body, free from Klein’s touch, radically subvert the male gaze. The histories of performance art, action painting and the female nude are brought into alignment, and simultaneously turned on their heads. The human figure is resurrected from the depths of art history, only to disappear into a blaze of colour and light. It is a thrilling vision of the journey we all make into the great unknown, and the vital, inextinguishable trace we leave behind.

The provenance of Anthropométrie de l’époque bleue, (ANT 124) attests to one of the most important relationships within Klein’s oeuvre. Werner Ruhnau and his wife Anita had first met the artist at Iris Clert’s Paris gallery in the spring of 1957 and quickly became friends. Klein was subsequently invited to submit designs for the entrance hall of the opera house, which—under Ruhnau’s conception—was to become a beacon of light, hope and post-war optimism in Germany’s industrial Ruhr region. Klein’s four sponge-reliefs and two textured monochrome panels were the only flashes of colour within the stark modernist structure, dramatically illuminated through the glistening glass front of the building. The commission, which Klein described as ‘the most important project of my life’, formed a profound chapter in the evolution of his ‘époque bleue’ (Unpublished draft of a letter, Yves Klein Archive. Reproduced ibid., p. 113). The sheer theatrical ambition of Ruhnau’s vision, moreover—a true ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’—would later inform the synthesis of music, performance and art that underpinned Klein’s staging of the Anthropométries.

It was under the Ruhnaus’ stewardship that Anthropométrie de l’époque bleue, (ANT 124) was first unveiled, as part of the 1964 exhibition ModerneGesammelt in Gelsenkirchen. The show, held at the Künstlersiedlung Halfmannshof, offered a showcase of private collections in Gelsenkirchen, featuring a sponge-relief by Klein as well as a rich survey of works by ZERO artists. Between 1976 and 2004, the work remained largely concealed from public view, making a significant reappearance in Klein’s Pompidou retrospective. There, it was shown directly alongside two of its closest cousins, each featuring five blue imprints: the Pompidou’s Anthropométrie de l’époque bleue, (ANT 82), as well as Anthropométrie sans titre, (ANT 100) (Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D. C). Also included were other major Anthropométries from museum collections worldwide, including the explosive Grande Anthropophagie bleue–Hommage à Tennessee Williams, (ANT 76) (Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou) and La Grande Anthropométrie bleue, (ANT 105) (Museo Guggenheim, Bilbao), the sweeping Anthropométrie sans titre, (ANT 130) (Museum Ludwig Cologne) and the elusive Anthropométrie sans titre, (ANT 154) (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art).


‘THESE ARE THE ANTHROPOMÉTRIES OF THE BLUE PERIOD!

Klein’s Anthropométries marked a pivotal phase in his ‘époque bleue’: a period that began with the discovery of IKB itself. Under the moniker ‘Yves Le Monochrome’, the artist would devote his short life to exploring the mercurial properties of this pigment. Blue, for Klein, was the most effervescent of colours, immortalised in the sacred frescoes of Giotto, the centre of the flame, and the deep azure of the Mediterranean that surrounded his childhood home. As a young man in Nice, he had signed the sky and claimed it as his first artwork. ‘Blue has no dimensions’, he declared. ‘… All colours 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 K. Ottman (ed.), Overcoming the Problematics of Art: The Writings of Yves Klein, New York 2007, p. 41). In IKB—a unique substance created by suspending pigment in a synthetic resin binder—Klein found a blue like no other. Its extraordinary, disembodied luminescence, he believed, was a ‘living being’ that had the power to transport the onlooker into the void, allowing them to glimpse the sensual, metaphysical realm that lay beyond the limits of the human brain. Its powers, Klein believed, must be harnessed; a ‘blue revolution’ had begun.

The challenge, however, lay in how to handle this volatile pigment. The hand of the artist, Klein maintained, should in no way interfere with the application of IKB, at the risk of muddying its electrifying life-force. Klein had initially used a roller to create his blue monochromes; later, he had hit upon the idea of using sponges, which absorbed the pigment of their own accord. The colour, however, still seemed to elude his grasp. Over time, Klein recalls, he began to invite naked models into the studio, sensing that the spiritual presence of human flesh would help to focus his communion with IKB. As he studied ‘the delicacy of living skin, its extraordinary colour and, paradoxically, its colourlessness’, he came to a profound realisation: ‘I needed to paint monochrome canvases with the models themselves’, he proclaimed. Crucially, for Klein, ‘this was no erotic folly’ (Ibid., p. 113). The models—or ‘living brushes’, as they came to be known—were not in any way sexualised, but rather became creative partners in Klein’s journey into the void. They were the critical interface between Klein and IKB, liberated from the physical world and reborn as radiant zones of immaterial colour.

The results of Klein’s first experiments with ‘living brushes’ were performed at a dinner party at the home of his friend Robert Godet on 5 June 1958. In these early attempts, the artist invited his model to leap into a vat of blue paint before crawling around on a gigantic sheet of white paper laid upon the floor, using her hands and body to distribute the paint. The effect, however, was not quite what Klein had in mind, the imprint diffuse and unrecognisable, and the medium too viscous and sticky. The artist had long believed that the torso was the source of the body’s true spiritual energy, home to its vital organs and—by extension—the ‘health that brings us into being’. ‘The heart beats without thoughts; the mind cannot stop it’, he explained, ‘… we breath without being aware of it. Certainly, the entire body consists of flesh, but the essential mass is the trunk and the thighs. It is there that one finds the true universe, hidden by our perception’ (Ibid., p. 186). If his investigations were to continue, Klein needed to find a way of using the body’s core as a vehicle for IKB: only then could his vision truly take flight.

Anthropométrie de l’époque bleue, (ANT 124) marks the moment that Klein hit upon this new approach. On 23 February 1960, the artist returned to the idea of his ‘living brushes’, this time seeking a new level of precision. In his apartment at 14, rue Campagne-Première, he unveiled his new technique to an audience consisting of Restany—his great friend, comrade and champion—and the art historian Udo Kultermann, then director of the Städtische Museum in Leverkusen. Klein’s wife, Rotraut, helped the model apply an emulsion of blue paint to her torso and thighs. Under the artist’s direction, she pressed her body against a sheet of paper on the floor, leaving behind five radiant, clear traces of the human form. Restany declared the birth of the series there and then; ‘Yves, who had been waiting for just this, jumped up in triumph’, he recalls. ‘He had his title’ (P. Restany, ibid.). Both he and Kultermann countersigned the work, now classified as ANT 85, inscribing upon it the words ‘celebration of a new anthropometric era’. The present work followed in its wake, its eight saturated imprints alive with the elation of the artist’s new discovery.


PERFORMANCE AND EVOLUTION

Less than two weeks later, on 9 March, Klein displayed this new technique in a ceremonial live performance, entitled—like the present work—Anthropométries de l’époque bleue. The event took place at the Galerie Internationale d’Art Contemporain on the rue Saint-Honoré, after a series of heated late-night discussions with its owner, Comte Maurice d’Arquian, who eventually succumbed to Klein’s proposition. Designed as an exclusive, one-night-only event, it was a spectacle of near-religious grandeur. At 10pm, a select guest list of artists, critics and patrons took their seats upon gilded chairs before an empty, paper-covered stage. A group of musicians—three violinists, three cellists and three choristers—entered the gallery, followed by Klein, dressed in a tuxedo, white gloves and the Maltese cross of the Knights of the Order of Saint Sebastian. At his signal, the ensemble began to play his Monotone-Silence Symphony: a hypnotic, cyclical drone that Klein had designed to induce a state of metaphysical rapture in its audience. The scene was set, and a hush descended: the performance was about to begin.  

Suddenly, three naked women entered, carrying buckets of IKB paint. As they began to sponge their bodies, Klein issued verbal and gestural instructions: two women focused on pressing their bodies up against the paper-clad walls, while the third dragged herself across the floor in a series of frenetic movements. Throughout the evening, a ritual solemnity prevailed, accompanied all the while by the Monotone-Silence Symphony which, after twenty minutes of noise, was followed by twenty minutes of silence. After the allotted time had passed, Klein engaged the audience in discussion, keen to make his intentions clear. These works were not sexual, he reiterated: the female body was not intended as an object of desire, but rather as an instance of human energy, and—more importantly—a counterpart to IKB. Rotraut, an artist herself, was among Klein’s models; others were friends and trusted colleagues, whom the artist engaged in a spirit of creative collaboration and discovery. Later, many of their own testimonies would bear witness to this fact—Rotraut has described her sense of powerful identification with each work in which she participated, while Elena Palumbo-Mosca wrote of the thrill of leaving ‘a mark of the brief presence of my body in the endless stream of life, a sign of beauty and cosmic energy passing through’ (E. Palumbo-Mosca, ‘When Someone Asks Me’, in Yves Klein, exh. cat. Museo Guggenheim, Bilbao 2004, p. 118).

The wall-based imprints created during the performance were similar to the present work in character: a ballet of forms, poised and serene, their solid blue interiors alive with IKB’s otherworldly glow. Over the course of the following year, Klein would radically diversify the Anthropométries. Some were conceived as battlegrounds: gigantic blue supernovae created by the model dragging her body across the surface. Others resembled divers or swooping angels, the human body curved into a plummeting arabesque. Some contained pink and gold, or fragments of text; others were conceived as negative imprints, created by spraying blue paint around the body and later filling in the void with sparse body markings. Klein would later extend the remit of the series further, initially through the so-called Anthropométries suaires (Shroud Anthropométries) executed on fabric, and later—in works such as the immortal Untitled Fire Color painting, (FC 1)—by combining the technique with his use of fire and water. As anticipated here, Klein would also combine the Anthropométries with his series of Cosmogonies, begun several months later, created by exposing paper to natural elements such as rain and wind. In the present work, light dapples across the mottled surface, like water sparkling in the sun.


THE RESURRECTION OF THE BODY

Klein had long been fascinated by the trace of the body. In his youth he experimented with hand and foot prints, and observed with wonderment the shapes that his own body made in the sandy beaches near his home in Nice. Later, following a year spent in Japan, he had immersed himself in the art of judo, and would subsequently acknowledge the links between the Anthropométries and the imprint left by fallen judokas upon the pristine white dojo mat. According to Klaus Ottman, Klein was equally fascinated by the prehistoric handprints discovered by Abbé Henri Breuil at Castillo in Spain: a notion supported by Restany’s assertion, printed on the performance invitation, that the Anthropométries ‘[ran] through 40,000 years of modern art to be reunited with the anonymous handprint … that at Lascaux or Altamira signified the awakening of man to self-awareness and the world’ (K. Ottman, Yves Klein: Works, Writings, Interviews¸ Barcelona 2009, p. 112; P. Restany, ibid., p. 110). Looking to more recent history, Klein was haunted by Kamei Fumio’s 1956 film Ikite ite yokatta, and its images of the human heat shadows left in the wake of the Hiroshima bombing: he would conceive several Anthropométries in tribute to the catastrophe.

The relationship between the human body and art was a growing concern among many of Klein’s contemporaries. The evolution of performance art and ‘happenings’ during the 1960s coincided with a new wave of female artists, who made use of their own bodies and others’ in a variety of guises. Yayoi Kusama was among the most important proponents of this movement, famously staging a series of anti-war demonstrations on the Brooklyn Bridge in which she painted the bodies of naked performers with her signature polka dots. The following decade saw the rise of Marina Abramovic—the so-called ‘godmother of performance art’—who frequently used naked bodies as a means of testing the limits of human endurance. More recently, her mixed reality work, The Life (2019), enacted the idea of the body’s trace in haunting virtual terms. Tracey Emin, coming to prominence a generation later, would bare her flesh in candid explorations of the human condition, significantly paying explicit homage to Klein’s Anthropométries in her seminal performance work Exorcism of the Last Painting I Ever Made (1996).

More broadly, the concept of art as action gained particular traction during the post-war period. Artists such as Jackson Pollock and Georges Mathieu were among the most significant pioneers of this approach, seeking to transfer the energy of the artist’s body into paint. David Hammons used grease to make his Body Prints, Robert Rauschenberg and his wife Susan Weil made a distinctive set of works by placing their bodies on blueprint paper and briefly exposing them to light, while Lucio Fontana ran a knife through the sacred surface of the picture plane, sealing time and movement in his sweeping, iconoclastic gestures. In Japan, meanwhile, the rise of the Gutai group saw artists such as Kazuo Shiraga suspend himself from a rope and mix paint with his feet, and sculpt vast piles of mud by rolling among it. Though Klein ultimately distanced himself from these artists, claiming that they were simply performing the role of ‘living brushes’, it is notable that, on a few rare occasions, he too used his own body in the Anthropométries.

Similarly, while Klein believed he had transcended figurative painting by turning the muse into the medium, the appearance of the present work arguably inscribes it within a long history of the female nude in art. Echoes of Henri Matisse’s Blue Nudes are undeniable: a comparison bolstered by Isabelle Monod-Fontaine’s assertion that, for Matisse, the colour blue was ‘the most charged with spirituality’ (I. Monod-Fontaine, quoted in D. Riout, Yves Klein: Expressing the Immaterial, Paris 2011, p. 139). The painting’s raw, unadorned impression of the female form, meanwhile, might be seen to align with works such as Willem de Kooning’s Women and Jean Dubuffet’s Corps de dames, which similarly recast the female body as a repository of primordial, carnal energy. This trajectory, set in motion decades earlier with works such as Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 (1912) and Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles dAvignon (1907), would also be reflected in the work of Francis Bacon, whose reclining nude portraits of Henrietta Moraes were less depictions of the female form than studies in what he described as ‘all the pulsations of a person’.

Though Klein’s religious views were complex—an idiosyncratic blend of Western and Eastern philosophies—he nonetheless spoke of his Anthropométries as a ‘resurrection of the body.’ In the aftermath of the Second World War, and the seismic global shifts that had followed, the expression resonated beyond its Christian origins. As Abstract Expressionism continued to loom large, and the monochrome gave way to Minimalism, the present work and its companions represented a reassertion of the human figure in art, born again from the rubble of the post-war ‘ground zero’. At the same time, the work attests to a rebirth of the body in more spiritual terms, suggesting that—even in the face of the abyss—its embers continue to glow brightly. ‘There is an imaginary beyond,’ wrote the philosopher Gaston Bachelard, ‘a pure beyond, one without a within. First there is nothing, then there is a deep nothing, then there is a blue depth’ (G. Bachelard, quoted in K. Ottman (ed.), ibid., p. 73). In Anthropométrie de l’époque bleue, (ANT 124), Klein offers an image of profound hope: that, as we step into the void, a life everlasting awaits.

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