A blank canvas

Yves Klein, Immaterieller Raum (Immaterial Space), Museum Haus Lange, Krefeld, 1961 (restored 2009)

Over the last few posts I realise I have been dealing with increasingly immaterial art. Though the work is visible it’s ultimately mostly made of nothingness. So, with Invisible soon to open at the Hayward Gallery, now seems like as good a time as any to think about work that really is made of nothing. The void as art. Well we’ve been here before in a way with Yves Klein’s Leap into the Void, but that was an actual photograph and art can get much more insubstantial than that…

La spécialisation de la sensibilité à l’état matière première en sensibilité picturale stabilisée, Le Vide (The Specialization of Sensibility in the Raw Material State into Stabilized Pictorial Sensibility, The Void), Iris Clert Gallery, Paris, 1958

It was in 1958 at Iris Clert Gallery in Paris that Yves Klein first exhibited an empty gallery space. The work was called The Specialization of Sensibility in the Raw Material State into Stabilzed Pictorial Sensibility, The Void, a snappy title if ever there was one. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s generally refered to – by me at least, but then I am quite lazy – as The Void. Klein, of course, a master of art as event, made sure that the exhibition generated sufficient excitement in advance that 3,000 people queued up at the opening to gain admittance through the sumtuous blue curtains in the lobby to a plain white room empty but for a cupboard. Blue cocktails were served.

Klein explained his thinking thus:

‘Recently my work with color has led me, in spite of myself, to search little by little, with some assistance (from the observer, from the translator), for the realization of matter, and I have decided to end the battle. My paintings are now invisible and I would like to show them in a clear and positive manner, in my next Parisian exhibition at Iris Clert’s.’

A couple of years later, as part of a larger exhibition at Museum Haus Lange, Krefeld, Klein showed an empty room again. This time the space was completely white – including the floor – and devoid of furniture. The space was small at only seven square metres and was ideally to be experienced alone. The paint on the side walls was slightly grainy allowing people to get their bearings within the overwhelmingly white space. The room was restored in 2009 and is on my increasingly long list of works I’d really like to see.

Yves Klein painting the void, Krefeld, 1961

Given how much has been written recently about Damien Hirst not making his spot paintings himself, it amused me to find this picture of Klein painting the room in Krefeld himself, complete with silly hat. This is clearly a work that is in no way dependent on the artist’s hand but then, regardless of whether or not technicians were on hand to do the painting for him, I suspect Klein was always mindful of the enduring power of a good photo-opportunity.

10 thoughts on “A blank canvas

  1. On the subject of doing the work (even when it is not about the artist’s hand or touch) there are some interesting comments by Jeffrey Steele in the new issue (11) of Turps Banana. I share his dislike of a process that puts the artist in the role of a manager of employees. However let’s also remember that it does have a very long tradition pre-dating Damien Hirst by some centuries.

      • Good point. When it is said that “King Solomon built the Temple” we all know that he didn’t actually do any of the work. With architecture however, the project is so big that a workforce is a necessity whereas this might not be so with paintings. Also, Jeffrey Steele points out in the recent intreview that there are other ways of working together, than with the artist acting as managing director, My observation would be that artist-as-managing-director is the usual model. I would like to see that questioned when assistants or technicians are doing a lot of the work, but I don’t think I see much of that questioning going on. I often wonder if Hirst’s ‘subject’ is ‘really’ “the triumph of capitalism”.

        • I think there’s a definite difference between painting and quite a lot of other artforms here. Large scale sculpture is inevitably more likely to involve fabrication, artists’ film often involves a team of people with particular roles and specialisms but all that seems far less problematic.

          But it’s also ironic that some of those most critical of Hirst in relation to the spot paintings (and arguably they are paintings with a deliberate factory-made element; and yes, in a way the triumph of capitalism is an apt phrase here) seem to hark back to some sort of golden age of painting without thinking that a lot of those works did involve the use of students or assistants to do a lot of the work.

  2. Fascinating crossover with physics – we are in effect made out of ‘nothing’ as the amount of matter in each living thing is infinitesimal compared to the amount of empty space in each of us. Matter is energy vibrating at frequencies that we can perceive. White is a combination of ALL colours.

  3. Pingback: Were the Emperor’s New Clothes “Conceptual Art”? | notes to the milkman

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