With Saint Rita of Cascia
“Saint Rita of Cascia, patron of impossible and desperate cases, thank you for all the powerful, decisive, marvellous help that you have given me up to now (…) Even if I am personally unworthy (…) protect everything that I have created so that independently of me it should always be of Great Beauty”.
A mysterious box
In 1961, a few months before his death, the artist Yves Klein (1928-1962) went to a monastery in Umbria to deposit a plexiglass box containing powdered pigments in pink and blue as well as gold, with this little message. As we were told by his widow, Rotraut, who is herself also an artist and the sister of the German conceptual artist Gunther Uecker, the work remained at the monastery as a sleeping beauty.
Noticed by a nun
Until the church at the site was being restored and a nun alerted the architect overseeing the building works to an ex-voto containing gold. He had heard of Klein. He contacted the theorist of Nouveau réalisme, Pierre Restany. The piece resurfaced.
Yves Klein intimate
It is presented today alongside 57 others in a remarkable exhibition which is staged at the Hôtel de Caumont in Aix-en-Provence entitled “Yves Klein intime” (Yves Klein, intimate). Klein died at the age of 34 of a heart attack (See here and here other reports about Yves Klein).
Two years earlier he had a premonition of his future death: “In 1959, while he was very busy with his exhibition project on the void at the Iris Clert gallery, one night he told me he thought he was going to die. His eyes, dark, looked like he was about to cry,” reveals Rotraut. He embodied this sense of urgency. In the image of the ex-voto, the exhibition presents a number of rare pieces.
To infuse his paintings with a sensual vibration he was seeking a specific colour but also a particular texture. “What saddened me was to see that this incandescent powder, once it was mixed with a glue or any kind of medium intended to fix it to the backing material, lost all its value.” He therefore developed, together with his colours dealer, a fixative that did not remove the powdery effect of the pigments, and registered the formula.
International Klein blue
This would become his IKB: International Klein Blue. Since then the velvety azure hue, which could cover a smooth canvas or perforated paper, would be accumulated in such a way as to form a small pool of pigment, soaking a sponge resembling a small planet and even covering a terrestrial globe…
He collaborated with the great artist of large-scale mechanisms, Jean Tinguely, to conceive in 1958 an “Excavatrice de l’espace” (Space Excavator): a disc that spins like our blue planet. The exhibition contains a wide variety of “Anthropométries”, paintings in which the bodies of models, smeared with colour, interact directly with the canvas. Rotraut tells us how she occasionally served as a model in private.
In Aix we can see the imprints of another woman, Elena Palumba, a friend of the family, who emphasized the artist’s respect when she “posed” for him. “He talked about us as his collaborators.” Among the rarities there is one of the Anthropométries in which the blue is marked in the crotch area with a yellow resin, symbol of fire. Another is formed in blue, pink and black, which gives its composition a radiant energy.
Walking on the moon
Several preliminary drawings for his “Batailles” – which juxtaposed different bodies – show to what extent Klein’s gestures were calculated and staged. All these artistic explorations took place while in the “real” world, from Baikonour to Cape Canaveral, men were obsessed with space discovery. Klein used the virtues of symbols, the power of the imagination, and the strength of the Saint of desperate cases to attempt to access his lunar dreams. It took seven more years after the artist’s death for an astronaut, Neil Armstrong, to realize his dream by setting foot on the moon.
Until 26 March, Hôtel de Caumont. Aix en Provence. www.caumont-centredart.com/fr/yves-klein-intime
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