50 Pity Whom I Pity: Yves Klein

A transcript associated with  Solve the World

A transcript associated with Solve the World

#27: Yves Klein

klein blue

When I was a child, I closed my eyes real-tight-like, focusing all my effort to imagine a new color. Something marvelous. Something new. I universally failed.




My mother told me to pray for new colors in heaven, implying that a theoretical afterlife remained my best shot at seeing the unfathomable.

Our buddy here, Yves Klein, is granted fame for his invention of a color. Before anyone tears out their eyes in utter bemusement or sanctimonious disbelief, I should state more precisely; Yves Klein invented, nay, patented, a specific hue of blue. Apparently, he found a way to capture a color vibration very near to that of lapis lazuli. Many refer to it as a sort of ultramarine. Yves called it International Klein Blue, or IKB for short. He slapped this color on nearly everything: canvases, statues, naked women etc, etc, etc. If there's one thing I've grown to know about artists, it is that for supposedly being creative, so many of them seem to fancy the tedium of repetition. Thus is the case with Mr. Klein's work. Blue, blue, everywhere, but not a drop to drink. Bah-humbug!

If one happened to be strolling around Paris in 1958, one might be tempted to venture into an exhibition of Klein's, entitled: The Specialization of Sensibility in the Raw Material State into Stabilized Pictorial Sensibility, The Void . Of course, when one is planning such an extravagant discourse on laziness, it is beyond mandatory that an inane, stupidly verbose title be given to said work.

More pointedly; unwork.

What one found there on that day, in the midst of those four walls declaring his craftmanship, is exactly nothing. Klein took everything out of the exhibit hall except one solemn cabinet. He painted the walls a boarish white. He didn't even use IKB. Nothing. Reportedly three-thousand souls rushed to the premiere to witness this nothingness in motion.

So here belies the unenviable task of discerning what exactly Mr. Yves Klein was attempting in his famed undertakings of patented hues and ceremonious nothings. Was it merely for reward? Sadly, no. If Mr. Klein were a huckster, a painter by virtue of his vice of greed, then all would be forgiven. He'd be a carny, a used-car-salesman, a trunk-car Rolex vendor.

A respectable member of the community.

No, the pity of it all remains that Yves Klein was anything but a sham artist. Absolutely no. He's the real deal. And therein lies the pity.

A story from Klein's youth has made the circuit and found it's place among Klein's profile as if it casts light on his bravura. As the story goes, Klein and two other schoolyard friends were laying claim to the cosmos. The first child claimed the earth below them. The second chose words. Klein chose the space around the planet. He clearly got the short end of the claiming-the-universe stick. Nevertheless, I guess this anecdote does relate to us a sense of Klein: a boy reaching for the infinite.

Here's the point: we can't reach for the infinite. If we try, we just grab useless air. That's why I couldn't imagine a new color. I gained nothing by trying. Neither does Klein. You don't flirt with the infinite, with the unimaginable, by imagining using your finite imagination.

Read this: the only hope we have of truly touching the void, of discovering something new, is by going somewhere we've never gone before. Using the matter around us, or lack of matter, is useless and a waste of a life.

REMEMBER, REMEMBER: there's nothing new under the sun. Don't lie to yourself and convince yourself otherwise.