Renowned for his blue monochrome paintings and his groundbreaking, often controversial experiments with new techniques and attitudes to art, Yves Klein is generally considered a progenitor of Minimalism, Conceptual, and Performance Art. In Klein’s short life (he only lived to the age of 34), he singlehandedly managed to redefine the foundation upon which the entire generation of the 1960s avant-garde stood, including that of Andy Warhol, Carl Andre, and Robert Smithson.
Born in Nice, France to parents who were both artists, Klein began to practice art in the late 1940s. In 1949, he created the Monotone-Silence Symphony, a piece consisting of a single chord sustained for twenty minutes, followed by twenty minutes of meditative silence. After a period spent living in Japan, where he became an expert at judo, Klein moved to Paris in 1955.
Klein began what are perhaps his best known works in the early 1950s: the blue monochromes. At first, however, he experimented with a whole range of colors: blue, orange, yellow, pink, red, and green. Disappointed with the critical response to these works when they were exhibited in Paris in 1956, Klein honed in on a single color: blue. He exhibited eleven identical blue canvases at the Galleria Apollinaire in Milan in January 1957. Intense, absorbing, and transcendent, this ultramarine pigment was to become known as International Klein Blue (IKB), which he patented in 1960. With this pigment, Klein was able to express the void, absolute immateriality, infinite space: concepts he regarded as central to life and art.
With a prolific and restless creativity, Klein continued to break new ground with his revolutionary artistic practices and ideas. His Anthropométries – paintings in which Klein used nude women covered in blue paint as ‘living brushes’ – offered a new form of Performance art. Klein was also a leading member of Nouveau réalisme – the French movement founded in 1960 by Pierre Restany.
In 1961, Klein was given a retrospective at the Museum Haus Lange, Krefeld, Germany, and, the same year, his first United States solo exhibition was held at the Leo Castelli Gallery, New York. Shortly before his death in 1962, he also appeared in the film Mondo Cane. Klein was the subject of a posthumous retrospective at Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, Germany (2004–05), as well as the major retrospective ‘Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers’ (2010–11), which was presented at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. In 2006, the Pompidou Center, Paris staged a large retrospective of Klein. From across Europe, to America and beyond, Klein’s work can be found in many of the world’s leading public collections, including the Tate Gallery, London; Ludwig Museum, Cologne; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Yves Klein died in Paris on June 6, 1962.