"Without the least learned discourse, without the support of any objective figuration, without inscribing the written trace of gesture, Yves Klein delivers you into his desired climate of the most immediate communicability with all the affective richness of colour: of one colour, a BLUE, a blue in itself, disengaged from all functional justification. And it is certainly not a question of outbidding Mondrian or Malevich: Blue dominates, reigns, lives. 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, "Yves Klein's Proposte monochrome, epoca blu" 1957, quoted in S. Stich, YvesKlein, Ostfildern, 1994, p. 81).
So ran Pierre Restany's announcement for the exhibition of Yves Klein's Monochrome Proposition - Blue Epoch at the Galleria Appollinaire, Milan in 1957. This echibition consisted of eleven blue monochromes including IKB 234. The presence of eleven almost identical canvases - they were all represented on the same scale of an identical color - caused a considerable stir in Milan. Some people denounced the exhibition as a joke or an insult, a claim that they felt was all the more justified because of Restany's comparisons to Giotto and Assisi, whilst others found in this gallery new answers to some of their own questions. For among the visitors were two Italian artists whose views were transformed and corroborated by what they saw there - these artists were Lucio Fontana and Piero Manzoni. Fontana would later comment that "Klein is one who understands the problem of space with his blue dimension. He is really abstract, one of the artists who have done something important" (Fontana, quoted in W. Beeren & N. Serota Lucio Fontana, exh. cat. Amsterdam and London, 1988, p. 34).
Yves Klein's monochromes were the first and purest expressions of Klein's concept of a "zone of immateriality" - a mystic void that he believed existed beyond the confines of conventional notions of time and space. Klein believed man had a kind of sixth sense - an innate sensibility to this mystic zone - that could be stimulated by color. Through the monochrome color of his these paintings he hoped to provoke an awareness in the viewer of the profound reality of this void. For Klein the realm of the "immaterial" not only lay outside of man's conventional wisdom but was to be the arena of his future. Believing the third millennium would herald a new spiritual age in which the artist as creator would develop a pure freedom within which to interact with this spiritual dimension, he sought through his own creativity to develop man's awareness to the void and to his enormous creative potential.
Klein's mystic beliefs came from a fusion of his awareness of Eastern philosophy (Klein had spent a year in Japan learning to master the higher disciplines of the martial art of Judo) and from his keen following of the gnostic principles of the Rosicrucians whom he had first read about in 1949 in Max Heindel's book La Cosmologie des Rose-Croix. In this book a predominantly alchemical theory of the world is proposed that interprets the universe as consisting solely of primal energy. All space and all matter is infused with such energy. Matter is essentially confined or bound energy while spatial energy is limitless and free. The artist - through the freedom of his mind - can crystallize the boundless free energy of space and materialize it into a form that resonates with the energy of infinite space. Not only do Klein's monochromes do precisely this, but they visibly demonstrate the process of their materialization by being very nearly immaterial themselves.
Having settled on pure color as the immaterial medium through which he hoped to "impregnate" the viewer with a sense of the mystic, Klein selected blue amongst all the colors to be the material vehicle through which to express the immaterial void. It was an inevitable choice given that Klein had grown up on the Mediterranean coast in Nice. Of all the colors, Klein considered blue to be the least material and the most infused with a sense of the infinite, being the color 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 seemed like materialized color and when applied to a surface blended with it leaving no visible trace of the manner its application. In doing so it maintained the intensity and radiance of its color - something that Klein found was often lost when pigment was mixed with most binding agents.
In order to further stimulate the viewer's sensibility Klein sought a pure tone of blue that would radiate with an intensity appropriate for the mystic energy it contained. After much experiment he devised the purest and most intense shade of blue he could and had the new color officially patented in his name. The color was called "International Klein Blue" and because they were physical manifestations of this color it is was by this name that he titled his monochrome paintings.
Executed in 1957, IKB 234 derives from the period when Klein had abandoned the making monochrome paintings in a range of colors, preferring to concentrate solely on the more intense and mystical (IKB) blue monochromes. He abandoned other colors because, as he later recalled in a lecture on the monochrome idea, he had found that "the public...when presented with all those surfaces of different colors on the walls" became "enslaved by visual habit" and "reassembled (each work) as components of some polychromatic decoration." "They could not," Klein observed, "enter into the contemplation of the color of a single painting at a time, and that was very disappointing to me, because I precisely and categorically refuse to create on one surface even the interplay of two colorsIn my judgement two colors juxtaposed on one canvas compel the observer to see the spectacle of this juxtaposition of two colors, or of their perfect accord, but prevent him from entering into the sensitivity, the dominance, the purpose of the picture" (Y. Klein, "Lecture at the Sorbonne,"1959, reproduced in C. Harrison and P. Wood, (ed.) Art in Theory 1900 -1990, Oxford, 1993, pp.803-805.)
Multiple colors not only represented a distraction for Klein, but they were also reminiscent of the frenetic modern world of multiple imagery that he hoped his monochromes would provide a spiritual alternative to. As Pierre Restany elaborated in the flowery prose of his introduction to the first exhibition of Klein's early monochromes in Milan, Klein's monochromes were a spiritual retreat from the hurly-burly and artifice of modern life. For Klein, the monochrome, neither painting nor object, was "an idea of the absolute unity in perfect serenity; an abstract idea represented in an abstract manner, which has made me place myself on the side of the abstract painters." "I quickly point out," he added, "that the abstracts themselves do not understand it this way and reproach me among other things for refusing to provoke color relations.' (Y. Klein, text for Exhbition Yves Peintures, Club des Solitaies, October 1955).