In ANT 173, executed in 1961, the blue silhouetted figure of a woman tumbles down the surface, her descent traced in a smear of International Klein Blue. This headless torso is anonymous and therefore universal, Klein presenting us with an artwork that is at once the product of a specific moment and action, and yet that has the iconic intensity and everyman quality of a mythological painting for our times. ANT 173 shows Klein creating religious paintings for his cult of the immaterial. It is an inverted apotheosis, the blue figure cascading like an Oriental dragon, flying through the immaterial of the support. With its vertical format, the woman's movements in ANT 173 are lent an unreal sense of flight, filling the work with spiritual freedom.
The snake-like curve of blue paint that articulates this work is both evocative, and at the same time clearly charts the path that the model took as she was dragged, probably by Klein himself or by one of his other models, across the floor. In 1960 and 1961, Klein organised several events and happenings in which he created his Anthropométries, as his friend Pierre Restany dubbed them. In several, he would preside like a ringmaster in black tie, an orchestra in the background, as his naked models entered. They would then be covered in paint and apply themselves to the paper which had been arranged for them to press against. In ANT 173, the paper was clearly on the ground, and the model dragged from one end of it to the other.
The Anthropométries marked the confluence of several different ideas for Klein. Only a little before his first attempt to make one, he had been living with his friend Arman, who had developed an almost DaDa process by which he covered everyday objects in paint and threw them against a support, tracing their brief presence in this chance-driven and iconoclastic way. As the inventor of the Monochrome and of IKB, Klein was attempting to discover a new means of creating art from a distance, of allowing the world to create its own image of the immaterial without his direct participation.
The final epiphany for Klein came in the form of the naked models with whom he had filled his studio. These were not intended as direct or figurative prompts, but instead to stimulate the artist: 'The shape of the body, its curves, its colors between life and death, are not of interest to me. It is the pure affective atmosphere that is invaluable' (Klein, quoted in S. Stich, Yves Klein, Ostfildern, 1994, p. 171). Klein claimed that their flesh and physical presence honed his understanding of the universe around him, visible even in his Monochromes. This sensual content, the presence of the healthy women floating around his studio and tampering with his tools and brushes, led him to create his 'living brushes' (Klein, quoted in Stich, op.cit., 1994, p. 176):
'My models laughed more than a little when they saw how I created the exquisite blue monochrome, limited to one color, after their images! They laughed, but they felt more and more attracted to the blue. One day it was clear to me that my hands and tools were no longer sufficient to work with the color. I needed the model to paint the monochrome painting' (Klein, quoted in Yves Klein, eds. O. Berggruen, M. Hollein, I. Pfeiffer, exh. cat., Frankfurt, 2004, p. 126).
Within no time he had organised events that involved his presiding over the creation of the Anthropométries before an audience, his Symphonie Monochrome being played in the background: 'In this way I stayed clean. I no longer dirtied myself with color, not even the tips of my fingers. The work finished itself there in front of me, under my direction, in absolute collaboration with the model. And I could salute its birth into the tangible world, in a dignified manner, dressed in a tuxedo' (Klein, quoted in Stich, op.cit., 1994, p. 177).
The Anthropométries had marked a strange revolution within Klein's art. While he had kept human bodies around him in the form of the models, believing that they somehow anchored his monochromes in the real world, it was only in the Anthropométries that he managed to find a means of making the immaterial appear in the flesh, incarnate. He had finally discovered a means of bringing the void into our world in human form, hence perhaps the meteoric descent - to Earth? - of the figure in ANT 173. The IKB figure penetrates the matter of the picture's support, and therefore appears, Messiah-like, amongst us.
In order to capture this phenomenon all the more directly, Klein kept himself at one remove from the artworks. This detachment meant that there was no room for subjectivity in the Anthropométries. Just as Klein's Monochromes had been filled with the transcendental image of infinity through their lack of any articulating motif, through their uniformity, so in ANT 173 he has avoided the corruption of personality or subjectivity, which would irrevocably taint his works. By remaining at one remove from the process of artistic creation, which he oversaw rather than partook in, Klein allowed it to be a product of the forces of the world, to be something that was more than the sum of his exertions:. Just as the presence of the torso in the image, without head or any other portrait-like element, added a sense of the everyman to the figure, so Klein's detachment from the actual creation of ANT 173 strengthens its sense of universality: 'That was, finally, the solution to the problems of distance in painting: My brushes were alive and remote-controlled' (Klein, quoted in Berggruen et al. (ed.), op.cit., 2004, p. 126).
These headless torsos not only provide a sense of universality, a general impression of the mythic validity of the image, but also concentrate the work on the flesh, on bodily processes, rather than the arenas of thought or movement. There are only tiny traces of the legs or arms, and none of the head:
'it was the block of the body itself, that is to say the trunk and part of the thighs, that fascinated me. The hands, the arms, the head, the legs were of no importance. Only the body is alive, all-powerful, and nonthinking. The head, the arms, the hands are only intellectual articulations around the bulk of flesh that is the body!... True, the whole body is made of flesh, but the essential mass is the trunk and the thighs. It is there that we find the real universe, hidden by the universe of our limited perception' (Klein, quoted in Stich, op.cit., 1994, p. 175).
In this way, Klein was capturing the relentless, thoughtless and all-powerful momentum of life in its raw state, the immaterial energy making itself visible in the all-too-material processes of a healthy body. Flesh was a means through which the void could penetrate the world and become apparent. The physicality of the creative process with the Anthropométries evoked the actual bodily presence - and movement - of the woman, celebrating life. At the same time, the ritualised performances that combined his interest in Rosicrucianism, judo and showmanship allowed Klein to trace the nativity of the immaterial in our world: the void impregnates our universe through ANT 173's flash of blue.