Blue in itself

YVES KLEIN: IKB 79 (1959), PAINT ON CANVAS ON PLYWOOD

IKB 79 is one of nearly two hundred blue monochrome paintings made by Yves Klein. Klein began making monochromes in 1947, considering them to be a way of rejecting the idea of representation in painting and therefore of attaining creative freedom.

The letters IKB stand for International Klein Blue, a distinctive ultramarine which Klein registered as a trademark colour in 1957. He considered that this colour had a quality close to pure space and he associated it with immaterial values beyond what can be seen or touched.

But blue is not necessarily a tranquil color, it can also, as Klein beautifully showed us, convey great trouble and distress – chaos:

YVES KLEIN: ANT 76, Grande Anthropophagie bleue Hommage à Tennessee Williams (1960), Paper mounted onto canvas

The curators at the Centre Pompidou says:

the Grande Anthropophagie bleue. Hommage a Tennessee Williams (1960) is a reflection of the fragility and suffering of the flesh. It is an appropriation of the final scene of Tennessee Williams’ Suddenly Last Summer, the work can be seen as an expression of great violence by the chaos and force of its marks. 

In the play, the protagonist is the victim of nightmarish punishment with makeshift weapons inflicted upon him by the young boys he abused. Through the heroin, a young woman played by Elizabeth Taylor, who witnessed the scene, we learn that jagged tin cans were used to rip up his body into strips. Klein takes up this theme under the no less violent title of anthropophagy to evoke a world that combines flesh and blood, guilt and penitence, weakness and strength of the body capable of suffering and inflicting suffering in return.

This Anthropophagy is blue: it recalls the ambivalence of the flesh, at once earthly and spiritual, the bearer of physical and moral suffering, mortal and eternal and, if one follows the artist’s theory of incarnation, verging on the Christian resurrection of the body. 

6 comments on “Blue in itself

  1. Interesting, thanks, and very beautiful. I think Goethe might have said that the blue reveals chaos, or is the trace of chaos, or the representation of chaos in the spiritual body that is the world, that human perception reveals and projects. I think that’s what he meant. In terms of art history, I think it’s most likely that Klein was responding in some way to that.

      • Yes, Bernhard’s book is great. Enzensberger did a wonderful send-up, too. Goethe scalded in a modern talk show, with words from his contemporaries. Brilliant. http://enzensberger.germlit.rwth-aachen.de/niedermitgoethe.html Do you know it? For me, it’s ‘the little cherub’s’ (the little Gott, the Göttchen, the Göttele, the Goett’le, the Göethe…man, these Leipzig’sche freemasons were, well, ahem) scientific books that are interesting. However, if you haven’t seen this book by Sigrid Damm, whoa, it’s a knock out. Goethe’s sister’s story, told by a brilliant East German critic who does his Marxism, her Feminism, and her Scholarly Good Sense proud. A masterpiece, and puts Goethe in his place… http://www.suhrkamp.de/buecher/cornelia_goethe-sigrid_damm_33152.html (Hint: he does not fare well in the discussion.)
        As for Goethe’s colour theory … it’s incredibly complicated and difficult , OR it’s incredibly simple and elegant. You know, I should write the simple version, because years of struggling with the difficult version were sure tough. Still, there must be a reasonably simplified version out there. If I find one, I’ll let you know. If not, I can be teased to write it out, but not right now, as I have been out galavanting and have a few other things to take care of at the moment. 🙂 Like lunch! The shortest version is that humans measure God, and see creation, according to their moods, which are like weather. If you want to see creation, Goethe might have said, put away your telescopes and use your eyes. The colours, he did say, are formed by human viewing. Physicists proved him wrong. But they, of course, missed an important part, which proves him right, and the artists have been working that out for almost 2 centuries. Once I saw that, and started looking at modernist German art (The Städele, that great museum in Saarbrücken, the Burka in Baden Baden, that little Kirchner Museum in Davos, even the Station in Rolandseck, etc … well, it was like seeing for the first time ever.) And they sure used blue. You’re onto something. I am excited at seeing where you’re going with it… some place very new, I think.

    • Fabulous!
      So many interesting thoughts and ideas to consider ( – I have actually been to the Kirchner Museum in Davos … :), but Sigrid Damm & Enzensberger & + + + is new to me.
      Apropos science; I just read this interesting story by Oliver Sacks about a painter who suddenly becomes 100% color-blind (after an accident), its called: The Case of the Colorblind Painter.
      http://www.csh.rit.edu/~oguns/school/psychology/Articles/colorblindpainter.pdf
      Total colorblindness is extremely rare, and colorblindness developed by a painter with the deepest knowledge about colors gives Sacks an opportunity to study the meaning & function of colors in a very new way. Sacks mentions Goethe in his text, I will go back and reread what he actually said.

      • Thanks for the Sachs. I’m going to have to find out more about that. Oh, I have a feeling you will love Sigrid Damm. Her humanity, intelligence, passion and clarity are to treasure. She makes writing look easy.

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