I am feeling a bit blown away by an extraordinary french man, Yves Klein having just read a book about him by Hannah Weitmeier. He died aged 34 from a heart attack in Paris in 1962 but in the relatively few years when he was making art seems to have anticipated so many other movements. Definitions of Concept Art generally seem to have the genre stating in the mid 1960’s, three years after Klein died; how can this be right given Klein’s “Epoque Pneumatique” exhibition took place in April 1958.
According to Weitmeier “in the early months of 1958, Klein’s conviction grew that the idea for a work of art was more important that the actual, executed work itself. With great care and precise timing, he ..intended to demonstrate the paradox that [an exhibition space] could be entirely divorced from the ordinary mundane realm of objects. As the logical consequence of the development of painting to that point, Klein decided to exhibit nothing- at least nothing that was immediately visible or tangible” Klein removed absolutely all fixtures and fittings and furniture from the gallery used for the exhibition. Then he spent 48 hours painting the gallery white using the same very dense medium he used on his monochrome paintings to give the gallery the same luminosity and intrinsic value of this non-colour.
A photo of Yves Klein in his exhibiton “Epoque Pneumatique” which was later known as Le Vide (The Void). The name change is interestesting and the book does not say whether or not Klein was a happy participant in the this, given his ideas behind the original title. The exhibition was very popular, visitors approaching it as an opportunity to share the here and now, a young artists vision of life liberated from the strictures of time and space. However for Klein the title Epoque Pneumatique had the following associations: the greek word pneuma meant air, but also ‘a gaseous substance thought to be the cause of human breathing, and thus a vital principle or soul-force; Weitmeier writes that Klein used the term in a political sense meaning a concious emanation from himself into the world around him. In this case the exhibition was not a void or an emptiness but a room that was fully occupied with this exihibit..albeit unseen.
However, after this exhibiton Klein did move on to works that were concerned with the void. He was working at the end of the 1950’s, when the race for space was on. The first satellite to circle the earth did so in 1957, but manned space flight did not take place until 1961 with Yuri Gagarin in Vostok 1. In this context his photo collage below has a particular significance, published on the front page of a pastiche of a leading Sunday newspaper.
1960 Man in Space! The Painter of Space Throws Himself into the Void!
Yves Klein spoke the following words concerning Twentieth Century Art in 1959:
“What is sensibility? That which exists outside our being, yet which still always belongs to us. Life does not belong to us; but we can buy it with the sensibility we do possess. Sensibility is the currency of the universe, the cosmos, the natural design, which permits us to purchase life like a raw material. Imagination is the vehicle of sensibility. Bourne by imagination, we arrive at life, life in essence, which is the absolute art”.
Of course this would have been spoken in French, which is a language full of subtleties.. and interpretations are never comprehensive renditions.