At age 19 Yves Klein stood in the backyard of his parents’ home in Nice and pointed a camera up at the open sky. This photograph of endless blue was his first monochrome work, setting the stage for hundreds more created during the artist’s short yet profound career.
Exploring this approach in both his groundless, brilliant blue canvases, along with films, sculptures, and architecture, I recently had the chance to preview the final leg of the ballyhooed Klein retrospective “With The Void, Full Powers” at Minneapolis’ Walker Art Center. The show makes the case that Klein’s single-hued work defined his aesthetic not just because he “owned blue” (as some like to quip), but because of his clever pursuit of suspending everyday perceptions to create a heightened reality, or what he called immaterial sensibility.
To imagine these hyper-realities, risk was essential to Klein’s process. His proposal for a new architecture arose out of his propensity to rethink the world in spiritual and aesthetic terms. Renderings and blueprints shown in a 1961 L.A. exhibit “Air Architecture” depict a future built environment created only using the elements of fire, water and air.
That same year also saw Klein return to his search for pure color, painting “Blue Monochrome.” Working with a chemist to create his own hue of blue, he created the renowned pigment “International Klein Blue,” which he used to indicate his ethereal view of world. Furthering this concept, in his notorious “Anthropometries of the Blue Epoch,” Klein used blue-painted women as his brushes, moving them across the canvas to create abstract disembodied images.