The Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris has requested Yves Klein's RE 46 (siii), 1960 for their forthcoming exhibition, Yves Klein: Retrospective, 4 October 2006--February 2007.
'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' (Klein, quoted in Yves Klein, ed. O. Berggruen, M. Hollein, I. Pfeiffer, exh.cat., Ostfildern-Ruit, 2004, p. 90).
In many ways, Klein's sponge reliefs were the most perfect encapsulation of all the different strands of his art. They combine his keen sense of aesthetics with the Immaterial, chance, nature, mysticism, rebellion, iconoclasm, Rosicrucianism and not least theatricality. With its articulated surface, the highly textured RE 46, executed in 1960, allows the viewer's gaze to wander appreciatively across it. The combination of Klein's signature color, the patented International Klein Blue or IKB, and the natural form of the sponges makes the work absorbing both visually and, in the form of the porous surface, literally. In this way, Klein found a way of explicitly impregnating the world with the blue of his realm of the Immaterial.
Born into the world of Abstract Expressionism, into an age in which representation itself had become suspect within the realms of painting, the sponge reliefs can be seen both as mystical works within the context of Klein's interest in the Immaterial, and also as foils to the works being made and celebrated by his contemporaries in the avant- garde. The purity and beauty of his art was, he perceived, a stark contrast to the Abstract Expressionists: 'Morbidism, rather than thinking of the beautiful, the good, the true in their painting: they express, they ejaculate, they spit out every horrible, rotten, and infectious complexity in their painting as if relieving themselves and putting the burden on others, 'the readers of their works,' of all their sorry failures' (Klein, quoted in N. Rosenthal, 'Assisted Levitation: The Art of Yves Klein', pp. 89-135, Yves Klein 1928-1962: A Retrospective, exh.cat., Houston, 1982, p. 93). In sponge reliefs such as RE 46 he has gone a step further and, by including objects from the physical world on his canvas, has created a pure, singing IKB work that is also super-realistic in its incorporation of parts of the real, living world. The ability of the sponge to be impregnated by the IKB, therefore becoming an incarnation of Klein's zone of the Immaterial, adds to an entire dimension of the work. Where the Monochromes were windows into the Blue, with the sponge reliefs, the Blue has arrived
This message is made all the more powerful by Klein's use in RE 46 of what he referred to as a 'living, savage material' (Klein, quoted in Stich, ibid., p. 165). Here, the Immaterial has been brought into being explicitly within the world of nature, of flesh, of life. Just as the torsos in his Anthropometries invoked the pure act of living, so the incorporation of these strange, simple, ancient creatures into his art emphasises the saturation of the material world by the Immaterial. Indeed, Klein also believed that the sponges provided a metaphor for the conversion of the viewers of his works to the cult of the Immaterial 'who, after having seen, after having travelled in the blue of my paintings, come back totally impregnated in sensibility like the sponges'(Klein, quoted in Stich, ibid., p. 165).
The saturation of the world by the Immaterial and the presence of the sponges in RE 46 both reflect Klein's interest in the Rosicrucian cosmogony which believed in various interlinking planes of existence defined and penetrated to a greater or lesser extent by the immaterial. Klein's initial revelation of the potential of the sponge to be incorporated in his art must have seemed all the more fortuitous because of his readings of the great and pathfinding Rosicrucian author and theorist, Max Heindel. In the first chapter of Heindel's seminal 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 fuelled much of his work, and it is this that he has captured in RE 46. At the same time, the happy coexistence of so many apparently contradictory elements in the sponge means that RE 46 is itself like a microcosm and metaphor of the artist himself, as he too combined seemingly incompatible traits: mystic, joker, visionary, iconoclast, master of the theatrical, master of ritual, poet, musician, charmer, neurotic, Judo black-belt, and artist.