1954 - 1957

The Heartbeat of France Portrait of Yves Klein during the shooting of Peter Morley "The Heartbeat of France", 1961
Charles Wilp's studio, Düsseldorf, Germany
© Photo : Charles Wilp / BPK, Berlin

Yves Klein, born in 1928 in Nice, had as a first vocation to be a judoka. It was only back in Paris, in 1954, that he dedicated himself fully to art, setting out on his ‘adventure into monochrome’.

Animated by a quest to ‘liberate colour from the prison that is the line’, Yves Klein directed his attention to the monochrome which, to him, was the only form of painting that allowed to ‘make visible the absolute’.

By choosing to express feeling rather than figurative form, Yves Klein moved beyond ideas of artistic representation, conceiving the work of art instead as a trace of communication between the artist and the world; invisible truth made visible. His works, he said, were to be ‘the ashes of his art’, traces of that which the eye could not see.

Yves Klein’s practice revealed of new way of conceptualising the role of the artist, conceiving his whole life as an artwork. ‘Art is everywhere that the artist goes’, he once declared. According to him, beauty existed everywhere, but in a state of invisibility. His task was to to capture beauty wherever it might be found, in matter as in air.

The artist used blue as the vehicle for his quest to capture immateriality and the infinite. His celebrated bluer-than-blue hue, soon to be named ‘IKB’ (International Klein Blue), radiates colourful waves, engaging not only the eyes of the viewer, but in fact allowing us see with our souls, to read with our imaginations.

From monochromes, to the void, to his ‘technique of living brushes’ or ‘Anthropometry’; by way of his deployment of nature’s elements in order to manifest their creative life-force; and his use of gold as a portal to the absolute; Yves Klein developed a ground-breaking practice that broke down boundaries between conceptual art, sculpture, painting, and performance.

Just before dying, Yves Klein told a friend, "I am going to go into the biggest studio in the world, and I will only do immaterial works." 

Between May 1954 and June 6, 1962, the date of his death, Yves Klein burned his life to make a flamboyant work that marked his era and still shines today.
  • 1954 - 1957

    The international breakthrough

    On his return from Japan, he publishes in Spain Yves peintures and Haguenault peintures and in Paris Les Fondements du judo. These publications reflect a dual career of judoka and artist which he manages simultaneously.

    His Monochromes, initially of different colours, are shown for the first time at the club des Solitaires in 1955, then at Colette Allendy’s gallery the following year.

    During 1957 he finalizes the fabrication of the colour he will call IKB (International Klein Blue) typical of the works of his “Epoque bleue” and which will remain his signature until 1959.

    The shows at Milan, Paris, Düsseldorf and London will give "Yves le Monochrome" an international stature. In May 1957 two joint shows take place in Paris: “Yves Klein: Propositions monochromes” at Iris Clert and Colette Allendy galleries. His first action, the Sculpture aérostatique, a release of 1001 blue balloons Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés, takes place during the opening at Iris Clert.
    • 1954

      Back in Paris, he is challenged by the professional and institutional circles of judo. The French Judo Federation refuses to acknowledge his Japanese degree. 

      In April, he signs a contract with the editor Bernard Grasset for his book The Foundations of Judo.

      In May, invited by Fernando Franco de Sarabia, he moves to Madrid. He teaches judo at the Bushido Kwaï club, and becomes a technical advisor to the Spanish Judo Federation. He hangs monochrome pictures inside his room at the club. He visits Barcelona, San-Sebastian and Valencia.

      1954_6 Yves Klein's card as a Technical advisor at the Spanish Judo Federation in Madrid, 1954
      © Yves Klein Estate, ADAGP, Paris, 2017

      In November, Yves Klein publishes Yves Peintures and Haguenault Paintings. These two collections of monochromes are produced and edited by the workshop of Fernando Franco de Sarabia, in Jaen, near Madrid. The preface signed Pascal Claude is composed of black lines in place of the text. The ten color plates are made up of unicolored rectangles cut out of paper with dimensions in millimeters. Each board shows a different place of creation, Madrid, Nice, Tokyo, Paris. Haguenault Paintings carries the mention of the collections. These two works constitute the first public gesture of Yves. Yves Paintings and Haguenault Paintings are works of art by which Yves Klein asks the question of illusion in art.

      Yves Peintures « Yves Peintures », 1954

      A misunderstanding with the chairman of the Spanish Judo Federation leads to Yves’ resignation.  

      He returns to France in early December, and settles in Paris.

      His book, The Foundations of Judo, is published during that month.

      1954_2 Yves Klein « The Foundations of Judo », Bernard Grasset Publishing, Paris, 1954
      © Yves Klein Estate, ADAGP, Paris, 2017

      Unable to compete in the European judo championship in Brussels, he still attends the event. Then, he travels to the Netherlands and through Belgium.   

      Hains and Villeglé show two experimental films during one of Marie Raymond’s “Monday meetings”, and Yves shows his films about judo.

      At the end of 1954, Yves sketches the scenario of The War (from line to colour) or (to the monochrome proposal).
    • 1955

      On January 13th 1955, in a French café, Yves shows his publication Yves Peintures to abstract painters, one of them being Michel Seuphor.

      On February 23rd, he is hired as a judo teacher by the American Students and Artists Center, Boulevard Raspail. He will maintain this activity until the end of 1959. 

      1955_11 Poster for Yves Klein's Judo lessons at the American Students and Artists' Center, 261 Boulevard Raspail, Paris, 1955
      © Yves Klein Estate, ADAGP, Paris, 2017

      On July 1st, the organisers of the Salon des Nouvelles Réalités (New Realities Exhibition) dedicated to abstract art refuse to exhibit his monochrome Expression du monde de la couleur mine orange. This event gives him the opportunity to meet Jean Tinguely, who is an exhibitor.    

      1955_1 Yves Klein in front of one of his monochromes in his studio, Paris, 1955
      © Yves Klein Estate, ADAGP, Paris, 2017

      1955_m_060 « Expression of the universe of the color lead orange » (M_060), 1955
      © Yves Klein Estate, ADAGP, Paris, 2017

      Yves opens a judo school in Paris at the end of September, with the financial support of his mother and aunt, at 104 Boulevard de Clichy. He hangs large monochromes in various colours.

      1955_7 Yves Klein’s Judo Teacher Card, Paris Academy, 104 boulevard de Clichy, Paris, 1955
      © Yves Klein Estate, ADAGP, Paris, 2017

      October 15th is the opening of his first ever solo exhibition “Yves Peintures” at the Club des Solitaires, in the private grounds of the Lacoste publishers in Paris. He shows large monochromes in various colours.

      1955_9 Opening of the exhibition "Yves Peintures", Club des Solitaires - Éditions Lacoste, Paris, October 1955
      Photo © All rights reserved

      On December 1st, Yves meets the art critic Pierre Restany.
    • 1956

      From 21st February to 7th March, within the “Yves, propositions monochromes” exhibition at the Colette Allendy gallery, 67 Rue de l’Assomption in Paris, Yves shows monochrome pictures in various colours. Pierre Restany draws up the introduction text, “The Minute of Truth”, printed on the invitation. A debate is organised on 2nd March within the framework of the exhibition. Among those attending are Pierre Restany, Claude Rivière, Louis-Paul Favre, Bernadette Allain and Henri-Jean Closon, General Commissioner of the New Realities Exhibition in 1955.

      1956_4 Poster of the exhibition "Yves Propositions Monochromes", Galerie Colette Allendy, Paris, February 21 - March 7, 1956
      © Yves Klein Estate, ADAGP, Paris, 2017

      In the Allendy gallery, Yves meets Marcel Barillon de Murat, a knight of the Saint-Sebastian Archers Order. He chooses as a motto : “For colour ! Against line and drawing !”


      1956_7 Adoration of Yves Klein to the Order of the Archers of Saint Sebastian, Saint-Nicolas-des-Champs Church, Paris, March 11, 1956 Photo © All rights reserved

      In May, the Science et Vie magazine publishes an article referring to Yves Klein’s sporting activity. The cover shows Yves practising judo.

      During the 1956 Summer, he must close down his judo school for financial reasons.

      From 4th to 31st August, he partakes with Tinguely in the 1st Festival of Avant-garde Art at the Le Corbusier’s Cité Radieuse in Marseille.   

      1956_avantgarde_1 Monochrome by Yves Klein exhibited at the 1st Festival of avant-garde art, Cité Radieuse, Marseille. Photo © All rights reserved

      Yves introduces himself to Iris Clert by bringing her an Orange Monochrome at her newly-opened gallery.    

      On 7th November, he sets up his studio at No. 9 Rue Campagne-Première in the Montparnasse quarter in Paris.

      In November, Guido Le Noci, the Milano Galleria Apollinaire manager, visits Yves in his new studio, and schedules his own exhibition for the following January.

      During the year, Yves finalises the production of the ultramarine blue colour, which will epitomize the works throughout his “blue period”, and which he will call the IKB (International Klein Blue).
    • 1957

      Open between January 2nd and 12th 1957, the “Yves Klein, Proposte monocrome, epoca blu” exhibition at the Galleria Apollinaire, via Brera in Milano, consists in eleven blue Monochromes of the same size hung in one room, and one red Monochrome in another. The invitation includes a text written by Pierre Restany, “Il secondo minute della verità”. Yves meets Lucio Fontana, who buys a Monochrome blue and befriends him. Piero Manzoni also meets Yves, and visits the exhibition several times.  

      1957_epoca_blu View of the exhibition "Yves Klein: Proposte monocrome, epoca blu", Apollinaire Gallery, Milano, January 2 - 12, 1957
      Photo © All rights reserved
      © Yves Klein Estate, ADAGP, Paris, 2017

      1957_epoca_blu_2 Yves Klein making a Judo catch during his exhibition "Yves Klein: Proposte monocrome, epoca blu", Apollinaire Gallery, Milano, January 1957
      Photo © Fedele Toscani - Alinari Archives
      © Yves Klein Estate, ADAGP, Paris, 2017
      1957_apo_2 Invitation for the exhibition "Yves Klein : Proposte monocrome, epoca blu", Apollinaire Gallery, Milano, January 1957
      © Yves Klein Estate, ADAGP, Paris, 2017
      1957_apo_7 Yves Klein, Adriano Parisot, Lutka Pink, Pierre Restany, Ada Parisot, during the exhibition  "Yves Klein : Proposte monocrome, epoca blu", Apollinaire Gallery, Milano, January 1957
      Photo © Foto Mercurio
      © Yves Klein Estate, ADAGP, Paris, 2017

      In February, he takes part in the “First psychogeography exhibition” at the Taptoë gallery in Brussels, and is involved in the “Comparisons” exhibition at the Paris Modern Art Museum.

      In March, Yves meets the German architect Werner Ruhnau and the artist Norbert Kricke, whose artwork is exhibited at the Iris Clert gallery.

      From 12th April to 8th May, Yves takes part in the “April micro-exhibition” at the Iris Clert gallery, which brings together small works by over one hundred artists – his parents included.

      In May 1957, he holds two joint exhibitions in Paris : “Monochrome proposals” simultaneously at the Iris Clert and Colette Allendy galleries. The joint invitation, shaped like a postcard, bears a blue-coloured stamp. Pierre Restany there discloses the upcoming two exhibitions of the “Blue Era”. Yves has a film made on both events, the sound track consists of the “Blue Shouts” by Charles Etienne.

      1957_allendy_1 Invitation with a blue stamp for the exhibition « Yves Klein : Propositions monochromes » Galerie Iris Clert an Gallery Collette Allendy, Paris, may 1957
      © Yves Klein Estate, ADAGP, Paris, 2017

      At Iris Clert’s, Yves chooses to present his Monochrome proposals. The birth of the “Blue era” is celebrated by the launch of 1001 blue balloons on the opening. Klein will talk about this event as an Aerostatic sculpture (IMMA 027).

      1957_clert_4 The blue balloons of the "Aerostatic Sculpture" gathered in front of the Iris Clert Gallery on 10 May 1957, on the evening of the opening of the exhibition "Yves Klein: Monochrome Proposals", before they were transported to the Church of Saint Germain -des-Prés to be released in the sky
      Photo © Paul Sarisson
      © Yves Klein Estate, ADAGP, Paris, 2017

      At Collette Allendy’s Yves presents a bundle of works prefiguring future evolutions : sculpture, environment, pure pigments, tanks of pure pigment, screen, the first Fire Painting Bengali fires – a One Minute Blue Fire Painting (M 041) and the first Immaterial. Indeed, a signpost announces that the exhibition continues on the first floor : "Surfaces and blocks of pictural sensitivity. Pictorial intentions”. This room is left entirely empty. A film of the exhibition was made by Yves Klein.

      1957_allendy_5 Yves Klein in the garden of the Galerie Colette Allendy, next to his "Tableau de feu bleu d'une minute" (M 041), on the occasion of the opening of the exhibition "Yves Klein: Monochrome Proposals", May 1957
      Photo © All rights reserved
      © Yves Klein Estate, ADAGP, Paris, 2017

      1957_imma_023 Yves Klein presenting a "Pictorial Intention" Colette Allendy Gallery, Paris, on the occasion of the exhibition "Yves Klein: Monochrome Proposals", May 1957
      Photo © All rights reserved
      © Yves Klein Estate, ADAGP, Paris, 2017

      From 31st May to 23rd June 1957, the exhibition “Yves, monochrome proposals” opens the Schmela gallery in Dusseldorf, with monochrome paintings in different colours.. On the invitation is printed in French the text by Pierre Restany “The minute of truth”. During this exhibition, Yves Klein meets and binds to the artists of the ZERO group (Otto Piene and Heinz Mack) as well as to the young art scene of Düsseldorf.

      1957_schmela_1 Invitation for the exhibition "Yves Propositions Monochromes", Galerie Schmela, Düsseldorf, 31 May - 23 June 1957
      © Yves Klein Estate, ADAGP, Paris, 2017

      1957_schmela_4 Yves Klein, Iris Clert and Alfred Schmela (center) at the opening of the exhibition "Yves Propositions Monochromes", Galerie Schmela, Düsseldorf, 31 May 1957
      Photo © All rights reserved

      From 24th June to 13th July, the “Yves Klein Monochrome Proposals” exhibition is held in London at the Gallery One. It shows monochrome paintings in different colours. The invitation bears the Restany text, translated into English as “An act of truth”.
      On 26th June, a public debate with Klein and Restany is held at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, chaired by Lawrence Halloway.

      1957_one_4 Yves Klein with one of his Sponge Sculptures at the opening of the exhibition "Monochrome Propositions of Yves Klein", Gallery One, London, June 24, 1957
      Photo © All rights reserved © Yves Klein Estate, ADAGP, Paris, 2017

      During the Summer, Yves meets Rotraut Uecker (Rerik, 1938) in Nice, a German artist who works as an au-pair at Arman’s, and who will become his assistant, then his wife.

      In September, he signs the Contro lo stile, Contre le style, The end of style, manifesto published in Milan. Among other signatories : Arman, Baj, Bemporad, Bertini, Colucci, Dangelo, Manzoni, Arnaldo Pomodoro, Giò Pomodoro, Pierre Restany, Saura, Sordini, Vandercam, Verga.

      In May, and having applied to decorate the Gelsenkirchen Opera, in the Ruhr area of Germany, he travels there to show the architect Werner Ruhnau his technique of sponge volumes, and then again in December when the drawings and models are exhibited. Yves is also part, at the time, of the “Kricke Group” set up by Robert Adams, Kurt Neyers and Emil Schumacher.

      Between May and September, he partakes in the “Opere delle collezioni private di Lucio Fontana e di Bruno Munari” at the Galleria Blu, “Micro-Salon di Iris Clert di Parigi in esclusività per l’Italia” at the Galleria Apollinaire, "Arte Nucleare 1957" at the Galleria San Fedele and, in Rome, in the “Micro Salon” at the Galleria La Tartaruga. He is also involved in the “Opening to the Future” exhibition at the H. Kamer Gallery in Paris and the “Internationaler Bericht der Gesellschaft der Freunde Junger Kunst » at the Kunsthalle in Dusseldorf.
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