Thursday, July 1, 2010


In 2008, this monochrome painting by Yves Klein -- brace yourself, would-be artists -- sold for #21,000,000.

Is money a good judge of art? Ahh me -- part of me, the realist says YES. And I've noted that the first grabs that a young artist makes, first choices -- the brash, confident self that KNOWS what he or she wants to say, do, create, present -- if you can hang on to that, that's your key to SUCCESS.

Okay, but my other self, very grown-up Em who's worked, revised, re-worked , re-conceived, worked-worked-worked self-critically -- that Em heaves a sigh and thinks, NO -- YOU are the judge, and the uninhibited, first efforts often succeed because they're odd, unusual, unique. They make a noise that no one has heard before -- they make the critic blink and question himself.

Yves Klein, Neo-Daddist artist, died at age 34 in 1962.

Klein wanted to make it -- be famous, be noticed-- and he said so. He did crazy daredevil things. Like Warhol, and also Dali, Yves Klein was a performance artist -- he talked, looked, and behaved as part of his ART.

Early on, when he wasn't sure what his medium was, Yves put his time, thought, and energy into creating "The Monotone-Silence Symphony." It was a single 20-minute sustained chord, followed by a 20-minute silence. He created it before American composer John Cage wrote his first silent piece.

I knew Cage, because I knew Merce Cunningham who lived with Cage, and Merce created bits of un-predictable, arbitrary steps -- choreography which was, to me -- BORING -- boring as Cage's "fixed piano" stuff and Cage's "silent" music. It inspired me to create my first "noise" -- my CONFIDENT, know-it-all stage play, "One Fine Morning in the Middle of the Night" -- and by golly, I was noticed! I did make heads turn! Eyes of major critics were on me! But I didn't grab (or if I did, I grabbed the wrong thing).

(Hey, if you're a would-be artist, pay attention -- read every thought I'm setting forth and everything you've heard about art -- give IT the raspberries and go do what you are thinking!)

Yves went into monochrome painting -- large and small canvases covered entirely with a single color. He was disappointed when people drifted around the gallery and said they were enjoying the room's decorations, implying the colorful canvases were connected, like a mosaic.

Then, Yves committed himself to blue. He declared that it was a "blue revolution that transformed consciousness." (I've noticed that it helps, when an artist is articulate, poetical, and yes, a bit of a B.S. artist.) He called the color "International Klein Blue."

Klein didn't like brushes. so he used ordinary paint-rollers, then sponges -- soaked large sponges in his blue paint mixture and attached them to canvases already sponged in blue (too bad he didn't live to long enough to know one of his blue sponge painting would sell, forty years later, for $4,720,000. )

Yves worked, sweated over these creations and used his soundless symphony for a new exhibit he called --"Specialization of Sensibility in the Raw Material State into Stabilized Pictorial Sensibility, The Void." (Whew -- that's a brain-teaser!) He removed everything in a gallery space, painted every surface white, and staged an elaborate routine for the opening night audience. Painting the exterior gallery window International Klein blue, installing I.K.B. curtains in the lobby, serving blue cocktails -- 3000 people waited and were finally let into the empty white room.

If I had been there, I would have stormed out. Was Yves worried? Did audience response, did critical response throw him? All I know is that Klein kept developing -- his way -- in any direction his instincts about art led him.

Using himself, his wife and friends he began working with body paint, creating paintings by rolling their bodies on the canvas.

These paintings produced this famous painting, "Hiroshima," ghostly remnants of shapes on a canvas.

He invited audiences, and filmed his new creative process. Audiences saw nude female models being sponged with blue paint, and throwing themselves down on a huge white canvas, rolling back and forth -- creating body prints. This type of work he called "Anthropometry."

His other paintings that used this method of production, include capturing the patterns rain made on a canvas strapped to the top of his car, as he drove; also, soot patterns on a canvas made by scorching the canvas with gas burners.

Are you inspired by this? Do you have ideas, impulses to paint, write, dance -- to speak poetry, or maybe stage a Shakespeare play this way? "Neo -Dada." art uses modern materials, popular imagery, and absurdist contrasts, like Jasper Johns did, Rauschenberg, Warhol did, and Yoko Ono does.

Is this what Madonna did on her tours? Is it what Lady Gaga is doing? Yes. Do I applaud it? NO. Do I like it? NO. It doesn't move me. I want to understand, and feel, and be touched and involved with art. I'll say it more simply -- art is life -- I need to understand, feel, be touched and involved with life.

"Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers," a new show that runs through September 12, is at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C.


Carola said...

Back in the 60s our college hosted a performance by Merce Cunningham and his company. I didn't like it - especially the John Cage music.

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