Yves Klein: With The Void, Full Powers at the Walker Art Center
-Text reprinted with permission. Courtesy ofYour Dress Would Look Better On Me
NOT ONLY DID YVES KLEIN INVENT A COLOR — INTERNATIONAL KLEIN BLUE — HE ALSO PAINTED WITH FIRE. His fire pieces are a stunning sight; outlines of women’s bodies somehow burned into canvas. Certainly being okay with getting charred wasn’t a requirement in order to work with Klein, so what was his secret? There are many films showing Klein producing his large-scale artwork, including one that divulges his technique of working with fire. Beginning October 23rd, The Walker Art Center has devoted three floors to Klein’s work, including the highly entertaining footage of him using fire, in their latest exhibition, Yves Klein: With The Void, Full Powers.
I have been a fan of Yves Klein for quite a number of years, but despite this, I haven’t done much research on him (hence not knowing he painted with fire). I have seen his artwork, namely the pieces featuring his namesake color, only in books and online. And at The Walker Art Center; one of my favorite pieces is the Mondo Cane Shroud, pictured above, and is part of The Walker’s permanent collection. This large but wispy piece of fabric features the famous blue color, but because of the canvas, it just isn’t very saturated. In order to create this piece, Klein had nude models cover their bodies with IKB and press themselves onto the fabric while a small orchestra played a single staccato note. A quick and sad story about Klein and this particular piece of art, from Max “Bunny” Sparber:
“Suaire de Mondo Cane (Mondo Cane Shroud),” Yves Klein, 1961. Exploitation documentaries from the 60s all seemed to contain a scene in which a beatnik artist applies paint to a nude model, painting abstract swirls directly onto her breasts and buttocks. These scenes, as with most of what appeared in this particularly crass form of filmmaking, were the invention of the filmmakers, and all borrowed from a single source: 1962′s Mondo Cane, and Italian documentary by Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi. Among scenes of dogs being used as food and Italian Catholics beating themselves until bloody in a fit of religious ecstasy, there was a long scene of a tuxedo-clad man painting a group of naked women blue. These women then pressed their bodies against a cloth shroud while an orchestra played the movie’s Academy Ward-winning theme song, “More.” But this scene is unlike the hundreds of similar scenes in exploitation documentaries that it inspired, in that the artist, and the art, is real. The artist is, or rather was, Yves Klein, a French neo-Dadaist who liked to paint things blue, and the painting that resulted is on display at the Walker. It’s also worth noting that the painting may have killed Yves Klein, or, rather, the film of the painting may have killed him. Klein believed he was participating in a serious documentary, and when he saw that his painting process had been edited for maximum titillation and was bookended by grotesque and absurd images from around the world, he had a series of heart attacks and died at age 34.
Until tonight, I had no idea just how stunning International Klein Blue really is. It’s a color that eases your eyes open wide. The color almost seems to glow. The best part is just how generous he is with his doses, too. The exhibit features numerous large canvases, smooth and textured, that are so saturated I couldn’t believe the pigment wasn’t dripping onto the floor. Klein painted with other colors, too, all as vibrant as possible, but it’s the blue that I can’t get enough of. And, as if he were after my own heart, he did a relief of the surface of the moon and created plans for a pneumatic rocket. There is definitely something futuristic about Klein.
At the Walker’s exhibit of Klein’s work, I realized just how fascinated Klein was with trying to represent elements through color and art. The exhibit features his plans for fountains that shoot both fire and water, for example. He was a man who didn’t bind himself down with one title; not only was he a painter, he “embraced sculpture, performance, photography, music, theater, film, architecture, and theoretical writing…” (exhibit program)
This is the perfect exhibit to take Minnesotans into winter. When the snow arrives, draining our surroundings of color and gray skies stretch on for days, Klein’s vibrant pieces will be a welcome jolt to our senses. And suddenly the idea of painting with fire will make perfect sense.
On View: October 23rd, 2010 – February 13th, 2011
Where: Walker Art Center
Address: 1750 Hennepin Avenue Minneapolis, MN 55403
Gallery Phone: 612.375.7600
Hours: Tuesdayâ€“Sunday, 11 amâ€“5 pm , Open late Thursday, 11 amâ€“9 pm, Closed Mondays