Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Yves Klein (1928-1962) was arguably one the most important, groundbreaking conceptual artists of the 20th century. He only lived for 34 years and one wonders how much more influential his work might have been had he lived?

He was one of the first artists to create a number of inventive and innovative works, many in his signature blue, that he called IKB – International Klein Blue. He used this hue in most of his works and starting around 1958 created the majority in IKB. Some of his most interesting, original and, at the time, unusual pieces were his figurative works. In these, he first painted color onto naked models and then had them either lie on blank canvas or roll on it. The results were strikingly abstract but recognizable images that were humorous and seductive. They were not prurient in their seduction but inviting. One is immediately taken by the forms and after a few moments recognizes the human figure.

In many of these works such as Anthropométrie de l’époque bleue (ANT 82), 1960 110” x 61”, he repeated the images a number of times. In this work, we see five partial figures seemingly moving across the canvas. These are female images from the breasts to the knees.Together they become something other than what they are individually. There is clear expression in their movement and placement. The title translates to Anthropometry of the blue time. Anthropometry is defined as the measurement and study of the human body and its parts and capacities1. Using this definition, we can see Klein’s possible jab at the artistic use of anatomy. As artists, we are trained in anatomy, to understand the proportions of the human body and to think about the scale and interrelationship of the parts in our work. In these and many other works, he plays with this concept by not painting the body on the canvas but painting the body and placing it on the canvas! The resulting works are marvelous.

Anthropométrie de l’époque bleue (ANT 82), 1960
Pigment pur et résine synthétique sur papier monté sur toile
155 x 281 cm
Achat, 1984 AM 1984-279 © Adagp, Paris 2007

Klein created quite a large oeuvre considering the short period he had to work. His art was influential from the start and still is today. His works are shown to and discussed with today’s art students who see that what many of them think is wild and unusual was already done by Klein over 50 years ago! There is presently an excellent retrospective of the work of Yves Klein at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C. that is more than worth the trip. Just remember to wear Blue!

1 http://wordnetweb.princeton.edu

Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers, Hirshhorn Museum, Washington D.C., May 20 - September12, 2010: http://hirshhorn.si.edu/exhibitions/view.asp?key=1&subkey=252

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