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.
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.