This work is recorded in the archive under no. IKB217 and will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné.
'I seek to put the spectator in front of the fact that colour is an individual, a character, a personality. I solicit a receptivity from the observer placed before my works. This permits him to consider everything that effectively surrounds the monochrome painting. Thus he can impregnate himself with colour and colour impregnates itself in him. Thus, perhaps, can he enter into the world of colour' (Y. Klein, quoted in S. Stich, Yves Klein, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London, 1994, p. 66).
Yves Klein's monochromes form the cornerstones of the artist's entire artistic output. The first and purest expressions of Klein's concept of what he called a 'zone of immateriality' - a mystic void that he believed existed beyond the confines of conventional notions of time and space - the IKB monochromes were so central to Klein's art that the artist came to personally identify the entire purpose of his life and being with them. Klein often referred to himself as 'Yves le Monochrome' and spoke of his art being 'the Monochrome Adventure'. The mysterious, textural expanse of pure radiating colour provides a highly physical manifestation of the inherent dialogue that Klein hoped to induce between the sensibility of the viewer and the vast monochromatic expanse of intense, but immaterial colour emanating from the surface of the work.
IKB 217 is a monochrome of classic dimensions and scale formerly belonging to Marie-Christophe de Menil, the daughter of the great collectors John and Dominique Menil, the founders of the Menil Foundation in Houston, Texas and among the first great patrons of Klein's art in America. In the years following Klein's premature death in 1962, the Menils acquired several of Klein's greatest works and, as Klein's wife Rotraut has recorded, were, together with the scholar Thomas McEvilley, responsible for both enabling and organizing the first great retrospective of Klein's art ever to be held in America, in Houston in 1982. It was this exhibition, which subsequently travelled to the MoCA in Chicago, the Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Centre Pompidou in Paris that was largely responsible for establishing Klein's International reputation as one of the leading artistic pioneers of the Post-War era. IKB 217 was also previously owned by the Galleria Apollinaire in Milan - the gallery where Klein had first launched his concept of the monochrome in 1957. Measuring 78 x 56cm, IKB 217 is of exactly the same dimensions as the very first group of blue monochromes - all identical in size but priced differently by Klein to emphasize their conceptual status - that Klein had exhibited at the Galleria Apollinaire in 1957. At this exhibition, entitled Monochrome Proposition, Blue Period, the eleven almost identical blue monochrome panels of 78 x 56 cm had been exhibited together as if each was a mysterious devotional object, mounted on a sequence of metal pole brackets that extending away from the wall.
These icon-like works, which were to have a profound and influential impact on artists such as Lucio Fontana (who bought one work from the show) and Piero Manzoni, marked both the genesis and the agenda of all of Klein's later work. Because of their conceptual significance and centrality within his oeuvre as a whole, Klein would continue to make these singular monolithic statements of pure, immaterial colour at various later stages throughout his career. It was the monochromes, Klein believed, that more than any other of his works, best awoke in man the kind of sixth sense-like awareness of the fundamental reality and presence of the immaterial dimension in life, which he sought to invoke in his audience.
Through the immateriality of colour in such a pure, concentrated radiant and monochrome form, Klein's aim was to instill the viewers of his monochromes with a profound understanding of similar immaterial presence and reality of 'the Void' that he believed underpins the visible material world of phenomenal reality - our day-to-day world of objects and things. For Klein this realm of the 'immaterial' not only lay outside of man's conventional wisdom but was also to be the arena of his future. Believing the third millennium that we now live in would mark the beginning of a new spiritual age in which the artist as creator would develop a pure freedom within which to interact with this spiritual dimension, Klein sought, through his own creative gestures, to develop man's awareness not only to 'the Void' but also to his own enormous creative potential within that realm.
Having settled on pure colour as the immaterial medium through which he hoped to 'impregnate' the viewer with this sense of the mystic, Klein selected blue amongst all the colours to be the material vehicle through which to express the immaterial void. Blue was an inevitable choice given that Klein had grown up on the Mediterranean coast in Nice. Of all the colours, Klein considered blue to be the least material and the most infused with a sense of the infinite, being the colour of the sky and of the sea.
In the application of blue however, Klein wanted to avoid there being any visible sense of surface to his works. They should have no edge and should reveal no brushstrokes, for his monochromes were not to be conceived of as paintings nor as windows but as materializations of 'the Void'. Klein solved these problems by hanging his paintings a few inches away from the wall, softening their edges and corners and by using pigment instead of paint. Pure pigment had an ethereal quality that fitted Klein's purpose perfectly. It was ethereal and seemed like materialized colour when applied to a surface, leaving no visible trace of the manner its application. It also preserved the intensity and radiance of its colour - something that Klein had found was often lost when pigment was mixed with most binding agents.
In order to further stimulate the viewer's sensibility Klein sought a particularly pure tone of blue, one that would radiate with an intensity appropriate for the mystic energy it contained. After much experiment he devised the purest and most intense ultramarine hue he could and had the new colour officially patented in his name. This blue was called 'International Klein Blue' and because they were essentially physical manifestations of this colour it is was by this name that he entitled all his monochrome paintings.