Yves Klein’s Leap into the Void

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One of the most influential yet under-known artists of the 20th century, Yves Klein virtually reinvented contemporary art in the 1950s with his embrace of space and fascination with the immaterial. From signing the sky and creating his own blue pigment that represented it to painting with fire and flesh, Klein paved the way for the conceptual, minimal, and performance art movements that followed. He made monochromatic paintings and sculptures, constructed a gallery exhibition out of nothing, threw the value of a work of art into a river, used nude bodies like brushes to apply paint to paper, let the wind and rain shape his canvases, and took a monumental leap into the void. A Rosicrucian and martial arts master, Klein had an intellectual and spiritual relationship with art that went beyond what most artists ever consider.

The subject of a current retrospective at Washington, DC’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Klein made major marks on the art world in eight short years. From his first public gesture, a publication of his monochromatic paintings, in 1954 to his premature death in 1962, he experimented with a wide variety of avant-garde media, including silent symphonies, faux newspapers, and air architecture. When he made his famous leap into the void, he stated, “to paint space, I must be in position. I must be in space.” Declared at the time when the US and Russia were first sending astronauts in the outer atmosphere, Klein’s claim to a realm beyond the world we inhabit is still his to hold.

Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers, which is accompanied by a comprehensive catalogue, is on view at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden through September 12 and then travels to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, where it opens October 23.

Click through below for a gallery of images.

Yves Klein, “Obsession de la lévitation (Le Saut dans le vide)” [Obsession with Levitation (Leap into the Void)], 1960. Private Collection. © 2010 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris. Photo by Shunk-Kender, © Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, courtesy Yves Klein Archives

Yves Klein, “Untitled Anthropometry (ANT 100),” 1960. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Holenia Purchase Fund, in memory of Joseph H. Hirshhorn, 1998 (98.23). © 2010 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris. Image courtesy Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Photo by Lee Stalsworth

Yves Klein, “Le Silence est d’or (MG 10)” [Silence is Golden], 1960. Private Collection. © 2010 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris. Image courtesy Yves Klein Archives

Yves Klein, “People Begin to Fly (ANT 96),” 1961. The Menil Collection, Houston. © 2010 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris. Image courtesy The Menil Collection, Houston

Yves Klein and a model during the performance “Anthropométries de l’époque bleue” [Anthropometries of the Blue Epoch] at Galerie Internationale d’art contemporain, Paris, March 9, 1960. © 2010 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris. Photo by Shunk-Kender, © Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, courtesy Yves Klein Archives

Yves Klein, “Untitled Blue Sponge Sculpture (SE 89),” c. 1960. Private Collection. © 2010 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris. Image courtesy Yves Klein Archives

Yves Klein, “Le Rose du Bleu (RE 22)” [The Pink of the Blue], 1960. Private Collection. © 2010 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris. Image courtesy Yves Klein Archives

Yves Klein, “La Rêve du Feu” [The Dream of Fire], c. 1961. Private Collection. © 2010 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris. Photo by Shunk-Kender, © Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, courtesy Yves Klein Archives

Yves Klein, “Untitled Blue Monochrome (IKB 67),” 1959. Private Collection. © 2010 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris. Image courtesy Yves Klein Archives

Yves Klein, “Untitled Fire Painting (F 81),” c. 1961. The Menil Collection, Houston. © 2010 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris. Image courtesy The Menil Collection, Houston

Yves Klein, “Dimanche (Le journal d’un seul jour)” [Sunday (The Newspaper of a Single Day)], November 27, 1960. Private Collection. © 2010 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris. Image courtesy Yves Klein Archives

Yves Klein, “Excavatrice de l’espace (S 13)” [Space Excavator] (collaboration Tinguely-Klein), 1958. Private Collection. © 2010 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris. Image courtesy Yves Klein Archives