With its dazzling surface, Yves Klein’s Monogold, l’âge d’or, (MG 48) extends the artist’s lifelong search for the sublime into a shimmering, lustrous void. His gold monochromes, along with those executed in pink and his iconic International Klein Blue, became the central means by which the artist looked to move from the temporal world into the spiritual. By rejecting both the figurative and the abstract, like an alchemist, Klein was able to summon up an entirely new form of artistic expression. Part of a distinct suite of works that Klein produced immediately before embarking on his iconic fire paintings and anthropometries, examples of his Monogolds are included in international museum collections including Untitled Monogold, (MG 28) in the Museum Folkwang, Essen and Untitled Monogold, (MG 7) in the Menil Collection, Houston.
The iridescent gold of Klein’s Monogold, l’âge d’or, (MG 48) blazes with gleaming intensity as its surface reflects back the light that falls upon it—the continuously shifting intensity of its luminosity dictated entirely by its textured surface. Comprised entirely of gold leaf, the delicate nature of the materials ensures that, in places, the thin slivers of metal are freed from the constraints of the support and tremble with the slightest breeze. Even the breath of the person who observes the work, makes its surface tremor, demonstrating the fragile, living nature of the material, and at the same time its elusiveness.
Gold was an extremely important color for Klein because it contained many of the qualities and properties that he sort out in his work, and along with his vivid blue and pink monochromes, it would become one of the trio of colors with which he would work the most. The alchemical nature of the color allowed him to achieve his stated ambition of dematerializing works of art. As can be seen here, gold shines, reflects, illuminates, and ceaselessly renews itself when looked at. It also carries with it a promise of immortality; it defies time. By making gold his own, Klein followed the noble tradition which linked him particularly and intimately to the Italian fresco painters such as Fra Angelico and Giotto.
This fascination with the color began in 1949 when, for a short period, Klein worked in the workshop of Robert Savage, a renowned picture framer and friend of his father. While he was employed there the artist taught himself the ancient technique of gilding, and in the process became captivated by its alchemical possibilities. “Gold was really something,” he later enthused. “And then, the gold! Those leaves literally fly away with the slightest movement of air and have to be caught in flight with a knife in one hand and the gilders cushion in the other. The leafs are delicately placed on the surface to be gilded, prepared with a base and moistened with gelatinous water before hand. What material! What better schooling with respect to pictorial matter!“ (Y. Klein, “L’aventure monochrome,” Yves Klein, Le dépassement de la problématique de l’art et autres écrits, EN SBA, Paris, 2003, p. 244).
Klein’s appreciation for gold is part of a long tradition of the metal being held in high esteem. Due to its resistance to corrosion and tarnishing, it has often been attributed supernatural properties by various cultures and several religious practices and folkloric belief. Despite the variance in culture, religion, or race, gold has always been attributed to certain deities and was conferred specific deistic properties as embodied by the metals themselves. Even now, there is still a certain superstitious belief that deifies Gold, an explanation why its value is not only inherently monetary, but something deeper in the human psyche. Gold has often also played a significant role in legend, symbolism, and folklore. For example Greece, India and China have myths and legends about gold which have been adapted to the general superstitions of today. In ancient Greece, gold metal was so precious to the gods that they would dress in it. Gold is mentioned in a wide vairiety of Greek mythology including such examples as King Midas, the Golden Fleece stolen by Jason who possessed the power of resurrection, and the Golden Apples of Hesperides. Gold has always been associated with the eternal, the unending, incorruptible, and embracing powers of the divine.
Directly capturing traces of the temporal and the spiritual, Monogold, l’âge d’or (MG 48) magnificently expresses Yves Klein’s desire to channel the essence of life and of the wider universe through art. The animated leaves of gold perfectly encapsulate the full emotional and mystical depth of the artist’s profound beliefs, and are evocative of the full range of Klein’s mystic vision, conveying the fleeting vitality of human life, dissolved of any individual identity, finally floating free within the wider cosmos.