‘Yves chooses madder rose… Having thus acquired the third element, Yves Klein, can, from now on, present the cosmological trilogy of personal transmutation of colours: ultramarineblue IKB, gold, and pink… The transfer to monopink in the monochrome trilogy is revealing. Madder rose represents the Holy Spirit before the gold of the Father and the blue of the Son; gold for immateriality and blue for sensibility’ (P. Restany, Fire at the Heart of the Void, New York 2005, pp. 24-26).
SE 207 is one of only seven extremely rare examples of Yves Klein’s celebrated Sculptures éponges rendered in the exquisite madder rose shade that made up a third of his unique colour triad: International Klein Blue, gold and rose. Balanced atop a slender stem of the same hue, the sponge erupts organically from its stone base as though a celestial flower, its bulbous head like a fertile bloom. A very rare, natural support in the artist’s oeuvre, the earthbound material of the stone base sits in exquisite juxtaposition with the sponge’s aerial form. Suffused with a concentration of deep pink pigment, the network of craters, crevices and caves that distinguish the material appear as though alive, a constellation of smaller, pink drenched sponges blossoming from its surface giving the sculpture a unique topography within Klein’s pantheon of Sculptures éponges. Constantly transforming with the incidence of light, brilliantly illuminating the sponge’s infinitely complex structure, SE 207 invites the viewer into Klein’s shimmering immaterial realm. The organic hole at its centre animates, enables and represents the transmittal of Klein’s concept of immaterial sensibility, embodied by his notion of the void, through and around the sculpture, its vitalising presence charging the sponge with a sense of movement and growth as though a living organism. Mystical and otherworldly, SE 207 eludes easy classification: it is at once of Klein’s immaterial world and of the sea, recalling forests of coral and sponge swaying hypnotically underwater. Executed just one year before Klein’s masterpiece, Le Rose du bleu (RE 22) (1960), SE 207 is an exceptional work that exemplifies Klein’s explorations into the immaterial, anticipating the spiritual significance that the colour pink symbolises in his work. Klein’s preoccupation with sponge lasted from 1959 until his death in 1962; both his Sculptures éponges and Reliefs éponges came to represent his greatest expressions of the concept of immateriality that lay at the heart of his oeuvre. SE 207 was exhibited in the landmark retrospective exhibition, Yves Klein: Corps, couleur, immatériel at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne, Paris in 2006-2007.
A seminal motif in the development of Klein’s theories regarding the immaterial, the Sculptures éponges expand upon the IKB monochromes. As early as 1956 Klein began to notice the absorbent potential of sponge as a way of distancing the hand of the artist from the act of painting his monochrome propositions and bringing the invisible into the visible, the immaterial into the material. ‘While working on my paintings in my studio,’ he recalled, ‘I sometimes used sponges. Evidently, they very quickly turned blue! One day I perceived the beauty of blue in the sponge, this working tool all of a sudden became a primary medium for me. The sponge has that extraordinary capacity to absorb and become impregnated with whatever fuid, which was naturally very seductive to me. Thanks to the natural and living nature of sponges, I was able to make portraits to the readers of my monochromes, which, after having seen and travelled into the blue of my paintings, returned from them completely impregnated with sensibility, just as the sponges’ (Y. Klein, in Overcoming the Problematics of Art: The Writings of Yves Klein, New York 2007, p. 22).
At a pioneering exhibition at the Galerie Iris Clert in 1959, Bas-Reliefs dans une forêt d’éponges, Klein displayed an array of sponge sculptures alongside his already well-known monochromes. Installed together the sponges became an otherworldly forest, a mystical environment that envisaged a new immaterial landscape. The viewer became an active participant in the exhibition, seemingly immersed into the midst of a strange parallel world. The transcendental sense of communion between artwork and viewer that Klein sought to establish in all his work and which the all absorbing sponge encapsulated and symbolised for him, appeared to be taking place all around them. For Klein, the sponge, when engulfed in pigment reflected the brains of his viewers, infused by sensibility, and became the perfect symbol for the capacity of man to absorb and understand the nature of the void as a vessel for immaterial sensibility.
Hovering in mid-air, elevated on a stem, each Sculpture éponge resembles its own isolated constellation. SE 207, impregnated with rose pink, anticipates Klein’s later galactic Reliefs planétaires, also tinted rose, indicative of the connection the artist made between cosmology and spirituality. Made very much within the context of the space age, much of Klein’s aesthetic was also founded on the gnostic, alchemical and Rosicrucian ideas that had fascinated him since his youth as embodied in his quasi-religious union of colour in Ci-gît l’espace (RP 3) (1960). In this context, the ‘savage living material’ of the saturated sponge offered itself as the perfect natural symbol of mediation between the immaterial realm of the spirit and material world of nature. Capable of holding a variety of elements – water, air, sand and grit – within itself all at the same time, the sponge when saturated with pink pigment was the perfect articulation of his notions of a base, elemental, material being impregnated with a higher dimensional essence. The shade of SE 207 demonstrates the prevalence of the triadic colour spectrum from early in his career. Klein identified blue, gold and rose as one, writing: ‘All three live in one and the same state, each impregnated in the other, all being perfectly independent one from the other’ (Y. Klein, quoted in S. Stich, Yves Klein, Stuttgart 1994, p. 194). Unlike his patented IKB, Klein had a broader definition of rose, using the term interchangeably with pink and crimson and using various different pigments in his monopink works. In his book on the central importance of fire and the colour trilogy within Klein’s work entitled, Fire at the Heart of the Void, Klein’s friend, colleague and champion, Pierre Restany wrote of the crucial importance of the colour pink to Klein: ‘Yves chooses madder rose… Having thus acquired the third element, Yves Klein, can, from now on, present the cosmological trilogy of personal transmutation of colours: ultramarine-blue IKB, gold, and pink … The transfer to monopink in the monochrome trilogy is revealing. Madder rose represents the Holy Spirit before the gold of the Father and the blue of the Son; gold for immateriality and blue for sensibility’ (P. Restany, Fire at the Heart of the Void, New York, 2005, pp. 24-26).