press release

The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao presents a comprehensive retrospective of the diverse career of French artist Yves Klein (b. Nice, 1928-62). The exhibition encompasses his earliest monochrome paintings in red, pink, orange, yellow, green, white, and black; the famous blue monochromes, sponge reliefs, and sponge sculptures; the Anthropometries; the Monogolds; and his late experiments with the natural elements fire, air, and water. Klein's groundbreaking work, created over only about seven years, anticipated numerous tendencies including Happenings and performance, body art, land art, and aspects of Conceptual art. To this day it continues to exercise a lasting effect.

Although he came from an artistic family-he was born in Cagnes-sur-Mer to Fred Klein, a figurative painter, and Marie Raymond, an abstract painter in the Ecole de Paris tradition-Yves Klein started out as a judoist. His intense engagement with the philosophy and practice of the Asian martial art of judo would have a lasting impact on his conception of art. Klein's studies included 15 months at the renowned Kÿdÿkan Judo Institute in Tokyo.

Strongly influenced by Zen philosophy, the Kÿdÿkan style of judo represents the union of mind and body, increased receptivity, the search for a state of emptiness, and complete harmony with existence. In addition, Klein from his youth pursued an interest in the mystical Christian teachings of the Rosicrucians. His deep, lifelong affinity for ritual and themes of immateriality and the void are thus not associated with any particular religious dogma but are rather a reflection of his preoccupation with spirituality in general.

Klein's first official appearance on the scene as a visual artist was in 1955, when he submitted his monochrome Expression of the Universe of the Color Orange Lead to the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles. This painting was rejected by the Salon, with the justification that a single color could not in itself constitute a painting. The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao exhibition contains a series of early, nonblue monochromes.

From the outset Klein used a roller instead of a brush in order to eliminate any traces of the artist's hand in the paint application. Therefore color becomes all the more significant. Klein's canvases do not act as planes but rather as pulsing fields of color that extend into space, unbound by the edges of the paintings. For Klein, color was "material sensibility." It manifests his effort to extend a purely visual perception to a comprehensive concept of sensory perception. He challenged his audience to dive into the infinite space of color and to experience an overall heightening of sensitivity to the immaterial.


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Yves Klein