Friday, 06 January 2017

Yves Klein: Theatre of the void

A mesmerising look at the work of Yves Klein, the French artist with his own signature colour

Written by Sandra Smith


If you’ve never experienced an intensity of colour that renders you powerless to avert your gaze, then this exhibition will open up a whole new world. International Klein Blue (IKB), the result of scientific assistance, became Yves Klein’s signature colour and the point from which he expressed absolute freedom. The Nice-born artist (1928-1962) spent many of his formative years in the French capital. It was whilst on a beach in the Côte d’Azur, however, that the depthless and infinite space upon which he gazed not only inspired his view of the universe and its interpretation in art but the brilliancy of a colour ‘the sky and sea alone can produce’. Sandra-Smith-colour-176

As the monochrome canvases displayed epitomise this prolific artist’s own pigment it is tempting to focus appreciation on IKB. Yet close inspection reveals texture and undulating surfaces caused by the binding agent’s reaction with dry pigment, creating a planetary landscape aspect.

Klein’s short career embraced many forms of art – from performance and sculpture to music and theatre – all of which are showcased here. With an approach foreshadowing artist movements such as conceptual and installation, his Anthropometry paintings are accompanied by the film of their creation, where nude female models sponge themselves in pigment before transferring imprints onto large sheets of paper. This process, choreographed by an elegantly tuxedoed Klein, took place in front of an invited audience where an orchestra played one note for 20 minutes followed by 20 minutes of silence.

Amongst fire paintings, sponge sculptures and other (I venture less intense, for nothing truly compares with IKB) monochromes, Leap Into The Void is a series of photos which startle as much as entertain. In an era that predates the editing and manipulating of photographs, Klein establishes his skill as a showman by springing from a rooftop in Paris. The juxtaposition of the nondescript building, road and passing cyclist with this expressive act heightens the sense of freedom to which he aspired.

Many of Klein’s works were ahead of their time. This exhibition gives an insight into how he controlled the public’s perception of himself and, in revolutionising others’ experience of art, paved the way for future generations of artists.

Until 5 March at Tate Liverpool, Albert Dock, Liverpool Waterfront: 0151-702 7400; www.tate.org.uk/liverpool 


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