Featured Photo: Still from the performance of Anthropométries series
French artist Yves Klein had a short artistic career due to his death from a heart attack at age 36. However, Klein and his artwork remain a stamp on art history. From The Walker Art Center’s video, Co-Curator Kerry Brougher goes as far to say that “because of him [Klein] we have conceptual art, minimal art, light and space art, installation art, performance art” (Video, 00:58). This thought leads me to a question about Klein.
How did Yves Klein receive such a regal, prominent title?
My second question oversees Klein’s entire process of Anthropométries series, including his fascination with one particular shade of blue called IKB.
How did the models’ body motion translate into the finished paintings and what does IKB say about the work?
We’ll look to Klein’s influences and artistic process to investigate these questions.
The Neo-Dada movement from the 1950s shifted the focus of Abstract Expressionism by implementing ideas beyond traditional standards through inviting contradictions, mixed signals, and fusing mediums together like painting and performance. Performance Art focused on the idea of “immaterial art,” or art that is not tangible that began as a wisp of smoke in the 1910s and became a movement in the 1970s. Minimalism grew from artists distancing themselves from symbolism and meaning by stressing the material itself. This focus lead to geometric shapes that occupied space and played with scale. Some of the key themes from these movements can be seen through Klein’s Anthropométries series. This series is also influenced from another key aspect of Klein’s work: his fixation with a particular shade of blue.
Klein is most known for his use of International Klein Blue, or IKB which is a monochrome blue color that is both vibrant and has depth. Klein was influenced by French philosopher Gaston Bachelard. In particular was a phrase from his essay Air and Dreams: An Essay on the Imagination of Movement that states “There is an imaginary beyond, a pure beyond, one without a within. First there is nothing, then there is a deep nothing, then there is a blue depth.” From Bachelard’s thought came Klein’s color exhibition at the Galerie Colette Allendy with Yves: Propositions Monochromes. The exhibition was an overall
disappointment for the public because they misinterpreted his work as being an “interior abstraction.” Klein attempted to express ideas on “an infinite journey into the immateriality of the surface” through his many colors on the walls. However, with the support from Pierre Restany, Klein pushed his ideas of immateriality with creating artworks with the color blue. Klein was influenced by French philosopher Gaston Bachelard “There is an imaginary beyond, a pure beyond, one without a within. First there is nothing, then there is a deep nothing, then there is a blue depth” We’ll look to see how IKB is being used as a paint medium to mark the body in Klein’s performance/painting piece section of the Anthropométries series.
The walls and floor are covered in white. The vertical wall has white, cubic blocks against it. The Monotone Symphony resides on stage left. Throughout the performance the Monotone Symphony is playing a single note for twenty minutes, with an additional twenty minutes of silence. The live audience sits in rows to watch the performance.
Nude female models begin to cover themselves by dipping sponges or their hands in a bucket filled with IKB paint. They paint the anterior medial portion of their bodies first, cover their breasts, stomach, and then thighs. Under the direction of Yves Klein, they begin imprinting and moving their bodies onto the white surfaces. Some imprints involve the body being pressed and then slightly roll side to side for more coverage. Other imprints show a dragging motion across the surface. To gain height on the vertical wall, the models use the white cubic blocks to act as steps. Once the performance is complete, Klein is left with monochrome paintings.
Each imprint variation is uniquely composed and portrays a different stroke quality. Anthropometries 82 shows five still imprints of the front part of the body composed of breast, torso, and thighs. Each shape is similar with a slight variation to breast tilts. The movement to create this mark was carefully considered by firmly pressing onto the paper then cautiously peeling the body away from the paper. Anthropometries 105 is quite the opposite with rigid, rough movements that feel as thought they are vibrating on the paper. There’s little to no distinctive shape that hints at a particular body part. Anthropometries 19 borrows from the other two paintings. There’s a distinction of breast and torso that appears to swirl in motion based on the curved lines within the imprint.
Where these monochrome paintings reveal clues on how the body moved to obtain these marks, they do not encompass the physical body in motion. That said, both performance and painting are separate pieces to the whole artwork. In this sense, Yves Klein (like Janine Antoni and Carolee Schneemann) blurred the lines between painting and performance art. This combination references back to Neo-Dada ideas on fusing multiple mediums together. His work is also minimalistic from the monochromatic IKB color and the monotone sound from the symphony. Klein distanced himself from the ideas of past movements and pushed ideas of new and emerging movements. It was in this way that Klein became a prominent artist.
With every decision Klein made, he did not use his own body. More specifically, he used nude female models. Since the rise of feminism in the 1970s, feminists like Julia Steinmetz have analyzed Klein’s piece as him using these female models as objects by slathering them across the canvas. In this way, Klein becomes the authoritative, male-dominated artist. However, model Elena Palumbo-Mosca explains their collaboration and their friendship in Paris. She states “This work is very beautiful, I like it very much. I know that it is the fruit of an extraordinary intellectual process on the part of Yves, and I contributed as best I could” (Video, 4:14). She was also the model to be dragged across the canvas. Her imprint is shown on the left titled “Princess Helena.” Based on the video links and discussions throughout, I feel that Klein was not expressing ideas on male-dominance nor did he act as if he was above the models or treat them in a derogatory sense.
All power dynamics aside, I’m intrigued by the comparison between the performance and individual paintings. Most of the conversations, discussions, and debates fall under the performative aspect of Anthropométries. Yes, this focus is largely due to the new idea of painting with the body, but we are still talking about his work from the angle of the performance. This focus tells me that the rich and engaging aspects of his work lie in the performance. Even the motion of how the models are adding the blue to their bodies is important in the performance. Although his paintings are unique and descriptive within themselves, the process is more rich than the end results.
Given the multiple directions Klein’s work can be discussed, I’ve posed a few questions as starters. Feel free to add your own questions or thoughts as well.
How do the body movements of the models influence your interpretation of Klein’s work? What does the IKB color do for you? In what ways do you feel that either the performance or paintings are stronger?