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Yves Klein: A colour visionary

2018 marks the 90th anniversary of the birth of Nice-born artist Yves Klein, one of the region’s favourite and most famous sons. In an interview with Alexandre Devals, the Venet Foundation’s director and curator of its current Klein exhibition Pigment Pur, Riviera Insider learns more about the venerated colour visionary and creator of a timeless deep blue hue.

YVES KLEIN, GALERIE ONE, LONDON 1957 © D.R. Riviera Insider: IKB (or International Klein Blue) is found throughout the exhibition. What is so special about the pigment?
Alexandre Devals: To be precise, this is not the IKB that Yves Klein patented in 1960, but the pigment he first used in 1957. For our installation, we show the blue pigment that Klein discovered at Edouard Adam’s shop in Paris, his purveyor of paints. He was fascinated by the purity of the colour and its lightness as well as the fact that it was so light and soft. We received the pigment from the Yves Klein Archives. In total, 600 kilos of the pigment were used. In 1957, Klein decided to exhibit the pigment at the prominent avant-garde gallery, Colette Allendy, in Paris. It was both important to him and the art scene. Even though the exhibition showed many other artworks, it was this one that gave its title to the show Pigments Purs (translation: pure pigments).

Why does Klein continue to carry so much importance in the art world?
His body of work is very impressive: he was a major creator and one of the inventors of dematerialisation as well as being a wonderful colourist. Klein was absolutely right to underline the power of the colour. He died very young (at 34 in 1962) and he would be 90 years old this year. We can only imagine what he could have achieved had he lived until now. His tragic and early death contributed to making him the mythical figure he is today.

Klein can be challenging for the spectator to really understand. When he spoke of ‘the void’, what did he mean?
‘The void’ refers to an exhibition Klein made in 1958 at the Iris Clert gallery in Paris. The original title was more complex: La Spécialisation de la Sensibilité à l’État Matière Première en Sensibilité Picturale Stabilisée (translation: The Specialisation of Sensibility in the Raw Material State into Stabilized Pictorial Sensibility). The gallery was entirely empty. The window was painted blue, but the room was all white. In 1961, at the Haus Lange Museum, he created another empty space. This one was called Zone de Sensibilité Picturale Immatérielle. It focused on what is left when there is nothing or seemingly nothing. The result, which can still be seen at the museum in Krefeld, is stunning. Here lies the answer to your answer. In a few words, it would be the conscience of someone in a space or only that which is essential. For Klein, it’s also linked to the cosmos and the metaphysical. 


The artist is often remembered for his work Anthropométrie de l'Époque Bleue (translation: Anthropometry of the Blue Age), in which he applied his blue paint directly to the naked bodies of beautiful women. Was this a serious artist reconsidering the processes of creating art or a man making the most of his position? He was certainly viewed as an enfant terrible at the time...
I can’t say I’ve ever thought about this body of work in that way! However, it’s true that one of the major creative revolutions initiated by Klein was to find new ways of ‘creating art’. He imposed monochromatic works on a very doubtful audience. For the generation that preceded Klein’s naked art, women were traditionally passive models used for drawing exercises. With Klein, the body became an active part of the artistic process. During video footage taken during the creation of some of these works, Klein is shown to be distant from the ‘nakedness’ and respectful, acting like a conductor of a musical piece.


Regional exhibitions featuring Yves Klein

Musée des Civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée, Marseille
Until 10th September 2018

Yves Klein : Pigments Purs
Venet Foundation, Le Muy
Until 15th September 2018

Cosmogonies, Au Gré des Eléments
Musée d’Art Moderne  et d’Art Contemporrain, Nice
Until 16th September 2018

LEXPO Augmentée Yves Klein… La Vibration de la Couleur
NICETOILE shopping center, Nice
From 6th July to 30th September 2018