The intervention called Yves Klein — Le Vide applies radical logic to make Yves Klein’s Le Vide, the empty space in the Museum Haus Lange, the centre of attention.
When Yves Klein (b. 1928 in Nice, d. 1962 in Paris) created this zone of emptiness in the Museum Haus Lange in 1961, in the space where the Lange family organ used to stand, the rest of the building was lavishly filled: Klein had distributed his work to date around all the other rooms on the ground floor of the villa and even out into the garden. Yves Klein — Monochrome und Feuer (Monochrome and Fire) was the title of the exhibition (14 January to 26 February 1961), and it was the first and last museum retrospective in the artist’s lifetime.
Paul Wember, the director of the museum at the time, had asked Klein in a letter dated 3 February 1960 if he would like to present his work in Krefeld. The exhibition was to follow a show about another Frenchman, Jean Tinguely. Klein and Tinguely were friends of long standing, having founded the Nouveaux Réalistes (New Realists) group with Arman, Dufrêne, Hains et al. in 1960. Their joint intention was to take real objects and everyday materials as a starting point for artistic work.
Yves Klein worked with a very wide range of ordinary or ‘elemental’ resources: he used untreated paint pigments and gold leaf; instead of a paintbrush he used paint rollers, scrapers and women’s bodies to create his pictures; sponges became colour objects for him; actions, pictures and sculptures were created with fire, air and water. In this way he negated his own handwriting and resisted the romantic notion of the artist-genius. Even so, his coloured monochromes in particular became icons of 20th century painting.
Using monochrome paint, whether it was blue, pink or gold, Yves Klein sought to shape both real and mental space. His sponge sculptures — the sponge in its quality as an absorbent object — are synonymous with the idea of permeation. In the Anthropométries he even allowed the paint to take over the human (female) body and be active in the space. “I think, I can say,” is how Yves Klein defined the effect of his work, “my pictures represent poetic events. Or rather: they are immobile, silent and static evidence of the essence of movement and life in freedom that the flame of poetry is in the painterly moment.” Ultimately Klein was striving to create an ‘immaterial’ artistic space through the effect of colour. The invisible quality the artist is alluding to here remained intangible of course and something that could be only imagined. Klein defined this immaterial quality with the vague terms ‘sensibility’ and ‘spirituality’, which definitely imply realms of religious experience.
Yves Klein replied to Paul Wember’s letter immediately with an almost complete concept for the Krefeld exhibition. The empty space was provided for even in this first draft. “An empty room should be reserved for specialization and stabilization in the atmosphere of its ‘empty’ volume of immaterial painterly sensibility.” (Yves Klein)
Yves Klein had already created Le Vide once before in the form of this logical conclusion to realize emptiness as an installation in a room: in 1958 he emptied the rooms in the Gallery Iris Clert in Paris. But what makes the emptiness in Krefeld very different from Le Vide in the Gallery Iris Clert is the dimensions of the location and the number of people who could get into the room. The empty zone in the Museum Haus Lange is only seven metres in area. In Paris large numbers of people could spend time in the empty space, but the little room in the Museum Haus Lange had room for only few people. Ideally, every visitor should address the emptiness separately here.
The elongated room is completely white from floor to ceiling. It is lit by a neon tube under the ceiling. Grainy pigments suspended in the paint can be seen on the side walls. This grainy quality is the only material element that helps recipients to get their bearings, because the longer people stay there, the more the corners of the space dissolve in the mind’s eye.
Dematerializing the artwork meant many things to Yves Klein: it was at once iconoclasm, ritual, mysticism and provocation.
Logically, the Museum Haus Lange, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in 1927/28, will remain empty for the week the exhibition is showing. Le Vide has been elaborately cleaned by the Kunstmuseen Krefeld’s restorer, Sebastian Köhler. Normally it can be visited only as part of a special tour, but it is now open to visitors in parallel with exhibitions in the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Kunsthalle in Bern (13.09 – 11.10.2009).
John Armleder, Mathieu Copeland, Gustav Metzger, Mai-Thu Perret and Clive Phillpot have conceived a wide-ranging exhibition called Voids. A Retrospective examining the phenomenon of the empty exhibiton since the 1950s. Yves Klein’s Le Vide is an early example in this context, followed over the decades in Krefeld by artists such as Michael Asher, Maria Nordman or last Ceal Floyer with their own interpretations of emptiness in exhibitions.