Yves Klein at the Hirshhorn: ‘It Looks So Easy’

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In honor of Yves Klein (1928 – 1962), groundbreaking artist, judo master and philosopher, today's post will be printed in the Wordpress approximation of IKB (International Klein Blue)--a color developed and patented by the artist.

The Hirshhorn museum's exhibition, "Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers," which opened last month, features conceptual works of one of the 20th century's most influential artists. Co-curators Kerry Brougher, of the Hirshhorn, and Philippe Verne, of the Dia Art Foundation, have transformed the second floor of the museum into a vibrant time line of Klein's brief, but prolific, career.

In just seven years, Klein created a peculiar portfolio of more than 200 works that explored ideas of perception, experience and spirituality. Klein considered his paintings and sculptures to be nothing but the actions of his art, the physical manifestations or demonstrations of what he believed was true art--his ideas.

In the mid-1940s Klein created his first piece of art by famously signing the sky over his hometown of Nice, France. Scholar Hannah Weitemeier describes the symbolic gesture as a sign of the artist's intention to embark on "a quest to reach the far side of the infinite."

Similarly, in 1958, the Iris Clert Gallery featured Le Vide (The Specialization of Sensibility in the Raw Material State into Stabilized Pictorial Sensibility, The Void). Klein had emptied the gallery of almost all its contents and painted its walls white. Significant buzz surrounding the creation led to 3,000 people lining up to see the empty room.

As with much of Klein's works, the thought processes behind the work make the art significant, more than actual canvas or sculpture. Daniel Moquay, overseer of the Yves Klein estate and archive, explains the idea of Klein's work this way. One "cannot comprehend Yves Klein, you just have to feel it."

When Klein first exhibited his colorful monochromatic works, he was distraught to learn that audiences viewed his canvases as brightly hued wall designs. To correct this perception, Klein chose to paint in only a primary blue known as IKB (International Klein Blue). Inside the Hirshhorn's exhibition, a wall of Klein's smaller monochrome paintings leads the visitor to a collection of IKB works (started in 1956), offset by stark white walls. A giant pool of ultramarine blue pigment in the center of the room is a reminder that IKB is only different from the common color because Klein's formula of polymers and pigments made it the artist's own creation. For the visitor, the collection of blue canvases at first may seem homogeneous, but each shows a unique and deliberate application of the paint.

For the artist's Anthropométries series from 1958, the bodies of women were used as human brushes as part of Klein's attempt to eliminate the boundary between the body and art.

The exhibition begins and ends with a copy of Obsession with Levitation (Leap into the Void), above. The exuberant, offbeat and challenging image seems to represent the short, happy and sometimes bizarre trajectory of Klein's career. As Verne explains "it looks so easy... it looks so simple" but it's not.

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