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Quafrieme Dan du Kodokan



Yves Klein, cover for Lei Fondements du judo, paper, 9 x S% in. (22.8 x 15 cm), pub. B. Grasset. Paris, I 954 (artwork © 2005 Estate ofYves Klein/ADAGP (Paris)/ SODRAC (Montreal), photograph provided by Archives Klein, Paris)

Recent abstract art actively works against the paradigms of purity and autonomy,'

A self-conscious revision of its heritage is a strikitig feature of its renewed vital-

ity. Cotnmentators have recognized the import of impurities within the founding

practices ofthe field. Briony Fer has revealed the aherrations integral to Piet Mondriau's paintings, for example, as Allan Kaprow did in the 1960s when he wrote that "the impure aspect of pure painting like Mondrian's is not some hid- den compositional flaw but rather the psychological setting which must be impure for the notion of purity to make any


sense at all."^ Here I will develop and exam- uie a paradigm of mid-twentieth-century abstraction's resistance to the norms of purity and autonomy in Yves Klein's agonistic reception ofthe monochrome, that com- pressed but not so rarefied Russian doll that sits inside abstract painting just as abstraction inhabits the core of modernism.'

Mark A. Cheetham

Matting the Monochrome:

Malevich, Klein, and Now

Klein systematically took the avant-garde monochrome beyond the frame of painting. Seeing his work as a precedent in this regard underscores Klein's historical importance and connects recent work not usually regarded as monochromatic or abstract to a genealogy in which he is pivotal. Klein scholars and supporters—especially Thomas McEvilley, Pierre Restany, and Sidra Stich— document his legacy for recent and contemporary art, including abstraction. Others are at best ambivalent about tbe artist and his patrimony Benjamin Buchloh claims that Klein, in company with Joseph Beuys, has been "overesti-

mated in U.S. reception.''^Thierry de Duve's writing in this context seems pulled

in two irreconcilable directions. On the one hand, he asserts that Klein's "only

tangible contribution to the history of painting is the chemical formula that allowed him to fix powdered pigment without diminishing its glow," yet in an instructive endnote about his reception in the United States, de Duve struggles with the tension between Klein's alleged "failure" and the fact that be "is not a negligible artist."^ More serious questions about the neo-avant-garde notwith- standing, a (usually) unspoken discomfort with Klein the provocateur and supposedly right-wing sympathizer colors the interpretation ofhis work.*"

The pbrase "matting the monochrome" refers simultaneously to the intrin- sic and extrinsic contexts in which we might reconsider tbis type of abstraction today One "mats" a work of art as a way of presenting it against something that

it is not, a practice that applies to the installation ofthe work as well as to its

intertial composition atid reception. As Klein showed in his struggle with Kazimir Malevith's reputation, matting in these senses is not a trivial concern. The other

abiding passion of "Yves le monochrome" was judo. Here again, mats are not merely supplemental but necessary support planes, limits, and frames for the martial arts. I will argue that the specific Zen attributes ofthe judo form Klein studied in Japan and promoted in Spain and France with his teaching and writ- ing itiformed his innovations and excesses in abstract art throughout his short but prolific career and are exemplary ofhis holistic, as opposed to pure or autonomous, sense of art practice. The two types of matting, one intimate to art making and viewing, the other apparently extraneous to the aesthetic, come together in a way that is typical not only of Klein's work but ofthe productive theatricality of much abstract art since the 1960s, practices that I will contrast with Michael Fried's theory of absorption.

Elements of this article were presented in 2004 at the CAA Annual Conference in Seattle and as part of the 2004 Teetzel Lectures at University College, University of Toronto. I would like to thank the conveners for providing these opportu- nities and for their generous responses to my work. Thanks also to Neugerriemschneider, Berlin, and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York, for assistance with the Olafur Eliasson image. Special thanks to Burt Konzak, Framboise Boudreau, and AA Bronson for their interest in this work.

1. Instead of rehearsing terminological disputes,

I will use the term "abstract" to include more specific historical and current references to "non- representational," "nonobjective," "concrete," "real," etc.

2. Briony Fer. On Abstract An (New Haven: Yale

University Press, 1997); Allan Kaprow, "Impurity" (1963), in Essays on the Blurring of Art and

Life/Allan Koprow, ed.Jeff Kelley (Berkeley:

University of California, 1993), 34.

3. On the monochrome as an icon of modernism,

see Ann Gibson, "Color and Difference in Abstract Painting: The Ultimate Case of Monochrome." Genders 13 (Spring 1992):

! 23-52: Thomas McEvilley, "Seeking the Primal through Paint: The Monochrome Icon," in McEvilley, The Exile's Return: Toward a Redefinition of Painting for the Post-Modern Era (New York:

Cambridge University Press, 1993), 9-56. See a!so Beate Epperlein, Monochrome Malerei: Zur Unterschiedlichkeit des vermeintlkh Ahnlichen (Nuremberg: Verlag fur Moderne Kunst, 1997), and Denys Riout, Lo Peinture monochrome: Histoire et archeologie d'un genre (Aries: Diffusion, 1996).

4. Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, Neo-Avantgarde and

Culture Industry: Essays on European and American An from 1965 to 1975 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000), xxviii.

5. Thierry de Duve, "Yves Klein or the Dead

Dealer," trans. Rosalind Krauss, October 49 (Summer 1989): 81. 90.

95 art lournal

Yves Klein, Mo/evJtcf) ou I'espace vu de loin, c. 1958, blue ball-point pen and pencil on paper, I OX x B'/i in. (27 x 21 cm). Musee national d'art moderne. Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris {artwork © 2005 Estate of Yves Klein/ADAGP (Paris)/SODRAC (Montreal), photograph provided by Archives Klein, Paris)

6. See for example Hal Foster's complaint that

Klein's supposedly "Dadaist provocation was turned into bourgeois spectacle," a view that mis- understands and shortchanges Klein's relationship to Malevich and the avant-garde generally. Klein repeatedly denied any simple connection between his work and Dada. I would argue that in his rela- tionship with Malevich's black square, discussed below, Klein performed what Foster hopes to achieve with his own laudable study, "a temporal exchange between historical and neo-avant- gardes, a complex relation of anticipation and reconstruction." Foster, The Retum of tfie Real:

The Avant-Carde at tfie End of the Century (Cambridge. MA: MIT Press, 1996), 11.13 (italics removed in latter passage). My claims for Klein here would, if plausible, imply a revision of both Buchloh's and Foster's assessment of Klein's place in the neo-avantgarde.

7. Thomas McEvilley. "Living a Contradiction:

Yves Klein and the Art of the 1960s and 70s." in Tinguely's Favorites: Yves Klein, exh. cat. (Basel:

Museum Jean Tinguely. 2000), 9. In addition to other essays, this publication includes an interview with Tinguely on his collaborations with Klein. Subsequent references in my text are to MJT.

8. See Thomas McEvilley, "Yves Klein: Conquista-

dor of the Void," in Yves Klein 1928-1962: A

Retrospective (Houston: Institute for the Arts, Rice University, 1982), 43. Subsequent references are to McE. I would like to thank Alma Mikulinsky for pointing out the reversed temporal directions of Klein's genealogies.

9. This IS Nan Rosenthal's interpretation, which

seems right. Rosenthal, "Assisted Leviation: The Art of Yves Klein," in Yves Klein 1928-1962: A Retrospective, 135, n. 153. Sidra Stich's reading is that Klein here shows a "Kandinsky collapsed on the floor." Stich. Yves Klein, exh, cat, (Stuttgart; Cantz, 1994), 74. Subsequent references to

Stich's text appear in my essay.

Matted Monochromes

Monochromes were Klein's first and omnipresent aesthetic obsession. He notor- iously appropriated the unmarred back ofthe blue sky as his work in 1946, painted blue the vault of a basemetit room where he and his youthful comrades hung out, printed reproductions of putatively earlier monochromes in his book- let Yves Peintures of 1954, and conceived a film in that year in which the opening scenes moved from monochrome white, through yellow and red, to ultramarine blue. The list ofhis innovations is much longer; he foretold and inspired tnany of the moves abstraction would make after World War II, not to mention an array ofthe directions to be taken by other art forms, from kinetic to performance to Conceptual art.^ In 1955, a large orange monochrome Klein submitted to the Salon des Realites Nouvelles was rejected, sparking the first in a long and profes- sionally productive series of public scandals around his work when his friends toured the exhibition, demanding to know where the work was displayed. When he exhibited monochromes in Paris in i95"6, comparisons with Malevich's vin- tage tuonochromes were made by Pierre Restany in his catalogue essay. Klein later responded with genealogical mappings that will concern us here.^ In texts and several versions of a cartoon ahout the Ukrainian artist, Klein outrageously positioned his work as prior to Malevich's. Mdevitch ou I'e^pace vu de loin ("Malevich or Space from a Distance." also titled in another version "The True Position of Malevich in Relation to Me") of circa 1958 shows Malevich anachronistically copying a Klein monochrome. Kandinsky's reputation seems also to be at stake in this struggle for priority: like a mouse, he is ahout to disappear into the wall.^ In his extensive writing project, the "Monochrome Adventure," Klein quotes Malevich's exhortation to the "aviators" ofthe future: "Fly! White, free, and end- less, infinity is before you" (Stich 74). But Malevich remains the earthbound

copyist in this caricature, painting only a lowly portrait or still-hfe "after" Klein. Klein wrote: "I can say at thirty years of age in 19^8, that when Malevich burst into space like a tourist around 191^ or 1916.1 welcomed him and he visited

me because I was already, since always, owner, inhabitant,

. 74). JeanTingueiy suggested tbat Klein had thus "demateriahzed the fact that Malevich had preceded him" (MJT 53). McEvilley takes the pessimistic view that Klein is here suffering from the anxiety of influence, as he did in relation to Marcel Duchamp and indeed his own parents, both of wbom were artists. Mucb of Klein's "own achieveinent paralleled works and attitudes that [these] two artists had expressed in the teens ofthe century. Sensitive to questions of prior- ity, obsessed with the modernist idea ofthe artist as innovator, and at the same time willing to play the fool, Klein argued that by a proper understanding of time he in fact preceded Malevich" (MJT 7),

There is parodic humor in the cartoon as well as a need for priority, but the more acute aspects of Klein's gesture toward Malevich make McEvilley's neg- ative judgment seem hasty Klein's claim to be the first to have manifested the true monochrome, that which partook of what he would call pure sensibility rather than merely art, is not without foundation. His monochromes were not framed by an atmospheric "background" or three-dimensional space, as Malevich's were. White onWhite (1918) addressed this issue of image against ground but did not eradicate the dialectic. LargeWhite Cross of 1920 exploits the

." (quoted in Stich

9 6



10. Fer, 144.

i I. On these topics, see Thornas McEvilley, "Yves

Klein and Rosicrucianism,





^, •

in Yves Klein

'928-/962; A Retrospect/Ve, 239-54.

power of an internal image. As Fer reminds us, Donald Judd recognized what was new about Klein's monochromes, that they are not "spatial." They do not create the illusion or reality of space in the way that Cubism or collage did.'° Indeed, from Judd's perspective, Klein emphasized the object status, not the illusory space, ofhis monochromes by hatiging them well away from the wall and rounding their corners in 1957 exhihitions in Milan and Diisseldorf (MJT 21). Klein actively sought to displace and even destroy the easel picture, both by removing the usual viewing coordinates ofthe image and with his fire paint- ings. His "studio" was life itself Later, he produced a great variety of three- dimensional 1KB (International Klein Blue) works. But we need to remember too that Klein's monochromes were not '"specific objects." "Pure sensibihty" for Klein was more a mystical than a perceptual category, one drawn from his inter- ests in Zen Buddhism, Gaston Bachelard's writings on space, and Rosicrucian- ism." He thought ofhis monochromes, and color itself, as living presences,

not fully helonging to the material world. Yet radical as Klein's revisions of him were, Malevich was not the easel painter Klein needed him to be. The black

monochrome was a qnasi-rehgious and social icon, whether in the

exhibition, where one version proclaimed its icon status from high in a corner

ofthe room, or in agitprop excursions, Malevich was the first to be so com- pletely identified with the monochrome, as pictures ofhis deathbed, funeral (the black square was the hood ornament on his hearse), and grave site attest.

1915 o, 10

Matted Judoka

How did Klein's lifelong commitment to judo interact with his "monochrome adventure"?The martial art was Klein's first infatuation. In the early i95os he envisioned a career as a high-ranking judoka, a champion and teacher. Despite set- backs and constant battles with the judo association in France, he realized many of these goals. Historians have commented on Klein's early promotion to black belt in Nice, where he studied judo 1947-5^2, and his training at the Kodokan Institute in Tokyo in 19,^2-^3. The scholarly hterature duly notes that Klein made a film in Japan in 19^3 (Stich 34) about the correct performance of judo kata— the formal exercises that form the grammar of the discipline—and that stills

were used to illustrate his book Les Fondements du judo, published in France in 1954, which brought the "true" Japanese style of Kodokan to France. Klein supple- tnented the physical skills taught in the dojo in France with readings in Zen and Buddhist thought, and he deepened his tinderstanding of these underpinnings of Kodokan judo in Japan. "Judo." he wrote early in his training, is "the discovery by tbe human body of a spiritual space" (quoted in Stich 17).There was a clear connection in Klein's experience hetween the momentary weightlessness of a

judo throw

ration of the Leap in a gloss on the famous photo published in a section ofhis mock newspaper, Dimanche, of i960: "The monochrome, who is also a judo

champion, black belt, 4''^ dun, trains regularly in dynamic levitationl (with or

without a net, at great risk to his life)

and his notorious Leap into the Void of i960. He extolled the judo inspi-

." "Let's be honest," Klein continued,

"in order to paint space, I must put myself on the spot, in space itself" (quoted

m Stich 217 and McE 23c).Though his theoretical mterest mlevnation also came











L L - L









from Max Heindel's Rosicrucianism texts (McE 41), the practice was pure judo.



Yves Klein, Leap into the Void, subtitled "The Painter of Space Hurls Himself into the Void!" October 1960, artistic action of Yves Klein, photography by Shunk-Kunder (artwork © 2005 Estate ofYves Klein/ ADAGP (Paris)/SODRAC (Montreal), pho- tograph provided by Archives Klein, Paris)

Klein wrote that judo was "always abstract and spiritual" (quoted in Stich 33). Anticipating his ./\nthtopometrie performances, he had thought early on of pigment- ing judoka so that the imprints of their bodies could be preserved and contem- plated during judo exercises (Arman in Sticb 269 n, 4). It is notable that Klein partially distanced himself from both performances, first by assuming the role of cameraman and later by conducting the anthropometries in a tuxedo. He famously described the first y^nthropometrie as follows: "The time ofthe brush had ended and finally my knowledge of judo was going to be useful. My models

were my brushes

vas which resembled the white mat of judo contests" (quoted in Stich 171-72). Not only did his judo pupils ofthe time catch Klein in a tarpaulin on one of his attempts to fly—after the master landed unassisted on the first attempt and twisted his ankle (Stich 213—14)—but, as McEvilley has suggested, the personal risk of this embodied conceptual performance initiated the "self-endangerment" work of Beuys, Carolee Schueemann, and Paul McCarthy, who himself attempted Klein's leap (MJT 11).

Here then is the other sense of "matting the monochrome" crucial to Klein and typical ofhis spongelike penchant for finding inspiration beyond a narrowly

[I] devised a sort of ballet of girls smeared on a grand can-

artistic context. Ultimately, for Klein such a separation simply did not exist, which is why his martial- and fine-art activities should not be sequestered in our attempt to understand bim, Buchloh expresses the standard view, one infused with (w-arranted) suspicion: "Klein's aspiration to be perceived as a judoka/artist made him the neo-avantgarde's first japoniste, one situated between the ancient culture of judo as a ritualistic performance of war and the contemporary condi- tion after Hiroshima."'' But the evidence suggests that judo was much more than another of Klein's publicity stunts. It was coutinuotis witb the Leop into theVoid

and Anihropomeiriei.The prototype for the still-controversial .Anthropomettie perfor- mance in March i960 took place in June 1958 in the htjme of the prominent judoka Robert J. Godet (Stich 172). Although Klein's intention was to have the pigmented models cover a white paper sheet on the fioor to produce a blue monociirome—as he had envisioned judokci doing—the event degenerated into an erotic spectacle displeasing to Klein, if not Godet,'^ In certain ways tbe canvas and judo mat were interchangeahle, or indeed one, for Klein, as were his art and his life. Frequently these mats of one color shared the same surrounding space and defined their internal space in the same ways, that i.s, as irrefragably material entities that nonetheless promised transcendence. His judo school in Madrid had monochromes on the walls in 1953-54 (McE 40), as did his Judo Academie de Paris, each seven to eight meters long—one blue, one white, one rose—• along with the orange monochrome that Klein tried to exhibit in 1955 (Stich 257 n. II; 56-57). Klein's private school in Paris was open for less than a year, but he was ahle to consolidate there the active meditation common to judo and the monochromes. Both were sources of "sensibility" in the important sense that with each type of monochrome one could move from the embodied, material presentations on a defined surface to a sense of Zen limitlessness and oneness of spirit and form. His collaborator Tinguely recalled perhaps the most significant relationship between judo and art for Klein: balance as a goal if not a starting point, "He didn't do it as an athlete. Just as he didn't do monochromes as a

12. Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, "Into the Blue: Klein and Poses." Artforum 33, no. 10(1995): 92. I 3. Klein's friendship with Godet exemplifies again the artist's inability to acknowledge his sources, whether in art or elsewhere. In 1952, Godet, a black belt judoko, published Tout lejudo: Son his- toire. so technique, sa philosophie. which was in important ways the book Klein sought to write but never fully realized. Godet's elegant cext expounds fully the connections between judo and Zen that remained integral to Klein's practice from his time in Japan but also stayed mostly in his notes for never-realized publications. As Klein did in Les fondements dujudo two years later. Godet underlined the importance of koto, the fundamen- tal distinctions between the martial arts and sport, and of the integration of judo and life. There was little in Godet's book that Klem would have dis- agreed with. Yet Klein did have reason to bring out his own work and to make large claims for it:

he had studied at the Kodokan and was legiti- mately part of the Kano heritage. He also had his film stills, which in his book illustrated the accred- ited kata techniques.

'space.' He didn't have

a panic

an equilibrium. He was tbe most unbalanced man-—totally unbalanced. He did monochromes as an iconoclastic anti-painter" (quoted in MJT 49). Klein took his judo studies extremely seriously and derived some sense of balance from his high achievements. His partner in the late 1950s, fellow judoka and architect Bernadette Allain, said that "on the judo mats he was serene, strong, and inwardly at peace. He had learned in Japan tbe true judo, which was nonexistent in the French schools—judo as intensive discipline and ascesis. which confers on the body itself a knowledge that has never passed through the intellectual mind" (quoted in McE 39). What we might call the preliminary or provisional space of the judo mat and ofthe monochrome surface equally required equilibrium on the part ofthe judoka/artist. By bringing these spaces together in practice, Klein was able to perform successfully in both. Success in these areas meant the effec- tive elimination ofthe boundaries ofthe body, painterly materials, color, and even space itself, a goal reached most dramatically in Klein's notorious leaps into the void.

the balance within himself He did monochromes in

He had none of what it'd be normal to have to do monochromes

We know all this and much more ab(3ut Klein and judo. It is therefore all the more surprising that McFvilley initiated an abiding "moving on from judo"

100 W I N T I R

Advertisement for Yves Klein's Paris judo school. 1955. 14'-^ x 11'/sin. (37 x 29 cm) (artwork © 2005 Estate ofYves Klein/ ADAGP (Paris)/SODRAC (Montreal), pho- tograph provided by Archives Klein, Paris)




104^ BctuL DE CLICHY, 104

A 50 metres du Moulin




Lavraie methode Japonaise Gokio- Katas


Noire 4'






topos, when, in his masterly 1982 catalogue on Klein, he stated that by mld- 1954. "a cart^er in tht- sport, which he had seriously contemplated, was appar- ently no longer a possibility for him. This point marks the real beginning oi his career as an artist" (McE 97). McEvilley suggests tbat Klein moved from a ""king- dom of judo" in Spain to a "kingdom of arc in Paris" {McE 41), Stich concurs but dates tbe transition later, after he stopped teaching. Because he was traveling frequently to Gelsenkirclien, Germany, for a major commission to decorate the new theater there, Klein bad trouble fulfilling his commitments at the American Students and Artists Center, wbere be had taught since 1955, and did not bave his contract renewed in 19^9, He did not teach formally after this time.To suggest, as Stich and McEvilley do, that Klein "clearly had reached tbe point wbere his identity as an artist bad surpassed his identity as a judoka," and that this and other difficulties conspired to bring an "end to bis active involvement witb judo" (Stich 257 n. 16), however, is to overstate tbe case in a way that both flies in the face of Klein's activities before his premature deatb in 1962 and misses an important dimension of his devotion to the plastic and martial arts.

Sticb warrants tbat Klein's early monochromes "are conceptually more in

tune with an Eastern. Zen approach to hfe

101 art journal

, " (67), but largely discusses Zen as

14. Quoted in McEvilley, "Yves Klein and Rosicrucianism," 244. I 5. As translated by Keiko Fukuda in Neil Ohienkamp, "Kodokan Judo," avail, online at http://wvi/w.|udoinfo,com/jhist I .htm.

a sensibility without its connection to judo practice. McEvilley notes that Klein's artistic alchemy combined Rosicrucianism and Zen, but be is quick to leave judo out ofthe picture (McE 243). There is ample evidence that Klein continued to "practice" judo after his formal teaching ended in 195^9: pictures from October i960 show him executing throws; Dimanche, with its illustrations of and refer- ences lo judo, went on sale on Novetnber 27, i960, Stich also records that Klein's long battle for recognition by tbe Erench Judo Federation, the strongest such organization outside Japan, ended belatedly in success on April 24, 1961 (Stich 2(;7 n. 16), and that be feit vindicated. During his disastrous exhibition at the Castelli Gallery in NewYork in [961, he apparently annoyed everyone by boast- ing about his judo achievements (Stich 232), For Klein, as a Kodokan student, judo was emphatically not a sport. He wrote his book and taught his classes to establisb a fuller sense ofthe martial art in France. What Klein believed about judo and brought home both personally and professionally is sumtned up in the following undated note: "Tbe ordinary judoku does not practice spiritually but pbysically and emotionally. The true judoka practices spiritually and witb a pure sensibility" (Stich 256 n. 40), Klein refused to separate the spiritual from the physical. We should be wary ofthe Hegehan drumbeat that claims Klein's art overtook his incarnation of judo principles. Artists and art do not need to be seen to progress, especially not from an external interest to a concentration on art.The monochrome, Rosicrucianism, and judo, plus tbe many other initiatives that preoccupied Klein, mixed to form a somehow consistent life as artwork, Klein beheved that "painting is no longer a function ofthe eye today; it is a function of tbe only thing that is in us tbat does not belong to us: our LIFE.'''-^ The elements of space, duration, and touch crucial to his sense of judo in part led to Klein's holistic aesthetic, "Art does not depend on vision," he wrote, "but on the sensibility that affects us, on affectivity therefore, and on that much more than ail that touches our five senses" (quoted Stich 14^)- Kodokan judo stressed the integration of body and spirit in the service of more than tbe self, Jigoro Kano, the founder of judo and the Kodokan school, wrote: "The aim of judo is to utilize physical and mental strength tnost effectively. Its training is to understand tlte true meaning of life tlirough the mental and physical training of attack and defense. You must develop yourself as a person and become a useful citizen to society." '^ Klein's Fondemetits du judo is in one sense his second genealog- ical exercise and is more linear tban his treatment of Malevich. Here he actively shaped his identity as an inheritor of tbe tradition of judo founded in 1882 by Kano, whose stern image is on the frontispiece. We read the founder's statement that "tbe katas are the aesthetic of judo." On the next page is a photograph of Risei Kano, son ofthe founder, and the president of tbe Kodokan and ofthe Japan Judo Federation wben Klein studied in Japan. Following tbis introduc- tion—and adopting a traditional chronological sequence eschewed with respect to Malevicli-^KIein turtber establishes bis lineage and legitimacy with photos of his fourth-d(in certificate and a picture of himself with Risei Kano and other ranking judokii at the Institute. Risei Kano wrote to Klein in 1953 on bis achieve- ment of tbe fourth datj: "Judo of the Kodokan, as you already know . , , [is] a moral ideal: it is the accomplishment of tbe perfect personality" (quoted in Stich 37). No one would hold tbat Klein went very far in perfecting his immensely difficult personality, but neither did be give up tbe attempt. Judo was one of his

ways to a Zen sense of nondivision and presentness, Klein's work is a sensible reminder or remainder of this behef. He did not want his monochromes to be a specialty within an artistic arsenal but rather to lead beyond the genre abstrac- tion, and especially beyond tbe gestural work of his famous mother, Marie Raymond. Klein worked on a larger "canvas" as his "Blue Revolution" sought to "impregnate" the world with pure sensibility. He sought to defeat the autonomy ofthe individual senses, the art media, and tbe art object. Unwittingly but prophetically, be provided potent alternatives to Greenberg's tbeory of media "competence"'* and Fried's notion of "absorption."

16. "It quickly emerged that the unique and

proper area of competence of each art coincided with all that was unique in the nature of its medi- um. The task of self-criticism became to eliminate from the specific effects of each art any and every effect that might conceivably be borrowed from or by the medium of any other art. Thus would each art be rendered 'pure,' and in its purit/ find the guarantee of its standards of quality as well

as of its independence." Clement Greenberg, "Modernist Painting," in Clement Greenberg: The

Collected Essays and Criticism, vol. A, ed. John

O'Brian (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 86.

17. Michael Fried, Art and Objecihood: Essays and

Reviews (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993). 14. Subsequent references are to Fried.

The Theatricality of Absorption

In Art and Objecthood, Michael Fried claims that be "described tbe emergence of a basic opposition between the radically abstract painting and sculpture I most

admired and what I characterized, pejoratively, as tbe 'literalist' and 'theatrical' work of a group of artists usually called the Minimalists." '^ Theatricality is defined by a particular relation.sbip between viewer and work, one that "solicited and included the beholder in a way that was fundamentally antithetical to the expressive and presentational mode of the recent painting and sculpture 1 most admired" (Fried 41). While Fried cautions us against drawing easy connections between his art criticism and his subsequent art-bistorical project of tracing the history of what be came, by 1980, to call "Absorption andTheatricahty" in tbe tradition of French art and criticism from about 1750 to about 1870, tbe opposi- tion of these terms in his thinking is important to my argument abont recent abstract art. Fried wrote recently tbat "no one witb even the sketchiest awareness

of recent history needs to be told tbat 'theatricality'

spectacularly while abstraction in my sense ofthe term became more and more beleaguered" (Fried [4). He stopped writing art criticism largely for tbis reason. My claim is not simply tbat theatrical art forms won tbe day but rather tbat tbe interactive, social, and impure paradigms that they presented offered a compet- ing and substantial view of what abstraction could be. A different relationship between absorption and theatricahty functions in significant abstract work from tbe 1960s to tbe present, especially in Klein,

For Fried, absorption in the French modernist tradnion, whicb to some extent figures as the genealogy ofthe mid-twentietb-century abstraction that he championed (Fried 51), required that the painter "negate or neutralize . , , the primordial convention tbat paintings are made to be beheld'" (Fried 47-48). Artists show figures completely absorbed in tbeir activities—in a Chardin or Greuze or David, for example—to the extent that. Fried continues, "the painting appeared self-sufficient, autonomous, a closed system independent of, in that sense blind to, the world ofthe beholder" (Fried 48). Tbat this grand fiction of tbe beholder's absence drove much of modernism is clear. But there were and are many competing models of reception, opposed to tbe absorptive in Fried's pro- phylactic sense, wbere viewer and work are beld apart. In Klein's work there is a crucial recognition ofthe positive force of sensibility as it is absorbed. This model is indeed more literal in the sense that it acknowledges as a positive element tbe participation of tbe audience in the work. His memorable sponge sculptures, for example, were anthropomorphic bearers of "absorption" in a

went on to flourish



Yves Klein, Tree, Large Blue Sponge (SE 71),

I 962. pure pigment and synthetic resin on

sponge and plaster, 59 x 35'X x 16'A in. (150

X 90 X 42 cm). Musee national d'art mod-

erne. Centre Georges Pompidou. Paris (artwork © 2005 Estate ofYves Klein/ ADAGP (Paris)/SODRAC (Montreal), pho- tograph by Philippe Migeat, provided by CNAC/MNAM/Dist. Reunion des Musees Nationaux /Art Resource, NY)

18. Philip Guston, "The Philadelphia Panel," ed.

P G. Pavia and Irving Sandier, It Is 5 {Spring 1960):


19.1 would like to thank Serge Guilbaut for insist- ing on this point. Here again there is a connection with judo. During his second stay in Madrid as an instructor, Klem bragged about having the chief of

police as a pupil. Restany claims that Klein actually trained military personnel in Franco's Spain. But as Stich argues, this does not make Klein or his work fascist. His comrade Arman underlines the irony

of the situation: "Yves Is often accused of being

fascist, but if you knew Yves it is ridiculous to say this because Yves wouldn't abide by anything but his own fascism or imperialism" (quoted in Stich 41 -42). Even [f we deny the validity of Klein's work on these grounds, can we rightl/ condemn his reception by shooting the messenger again, a reception that includes the overtly and arguably redemptive adoption of his blue revolution by General Idea?

20. General Idea: Pharma©opia, exh. cat.

(Barcelona: Centre d'Art Santa Monica, 1992),

60. Subsequent references are to Gl. AA

Bronson, the surviving member of Gl, has con- firmed to me in conversation that very little has been written about the group's interactions with Klein's work,

21. Allan Doyle pointed out to me thai a recent

version of this work, XXX Rose, was performed in

2003 at the MIT List Visual Arts Center at as part

of the exhibition Influence, Anxiety, and Gratitude.

physical sense. Here tbe literalness of absorption was to be encouraged if art was to have a social force: a theatricality of absorption defined the desired infection and transformation ofthe viewer through art, Klein titled some of these sculp- tures The IKBWfltchtT and 1KB Reader. He referred to the many examples of this type as "portraits" and celebrated these "readers of my monochromes who, after having seen, after having traveled in tbe blue of my paintings, come back totally impregnated in sensibility like tbe sponges" (quoted in Stich i6^).

Recent Adjustments of Impurity

In living an expansive aesthetic life to tbe extreme, Klein embodied what has become tbe ballmark of many acclaimed artists since his time: a protean creativity that refuses to respect modernist boundaries of medium or method (McE (2). Abstraction and especially tbe monochrome became for many of these artists, as they were for Klein, not special areas of competence but ratber experitnents, infections, contagions. Tbis expansion ofthe purview of "abstraction" accords witb Philip Guston's prophetic vision ofthe changes in abstract art that would arise in part as a reaction against purist formalism. "Tbere is something ridicu- lous and miserly," he claitiied in i960, "in tbe myth we inherit from abstract art. That painting is autonomous, pure and for itself, and therefore we habitually analyze its ingredients and define its limits. But painting is 'impure.' h is tbe adjustment of'impurities' which forces painting's continuities."'** Tbe radicality of recent abstraction is not found in the self-criticahty and containment ofthe visual language. While this may have been the case in the tiiid-twentietb century, as Greenberg, Fried, and otbers argued so vigorously, assertions of aesthetic autonomy seem dated now, as much in abstract art as in the many forms that would replace its hegemonic mid-century paradigms. Rather than a survey of these recent developments, I will instead present two final case studies.

The group General Idea extended tbe genealogy of abstraction that I have traced from Malevicb to Klein. GI's debts to the Klein of tnonochromatic blue impregnations were mucb greater than bas been articulated in tbe scholarly liter- ature on tbe group; tbis said, it would be difficult to itnagine a more pohtical redeployment of Klein's art. which in its original social contexts was allegedly right-wing and at the least quietistic.'" As early as tbeir film Tesi Tube in 1979— with its "blue moment"—and ttp to the dissolution ofthe group more than a decade ago, its members engaged in "tnonoclirome research" inspired by Yves le monochrome bimself.'° Happily borrowing the "chroma key blue" used in this film, they mirrored Klein's 1KB and inaugurated a "blue period" as Klein bad done, garnering an outrageous reference not only to Pablo Picasso but to the later artist as well. In a parodic homage to Klein's Aithropometries, the tbree Gl artists deployed poodles—tbeir canine alter egos at tbe time—as nonbuman brusbes lo inscribe "XXX Blue."'' Blue shards of a collapsed structure and a cotn- memorative blue pamphlet issued from the 1985 exhibition in Middelburg, Holland: Khroma Key Klub:The Blue Ruin.s from the 1984 Miss General Idea Pavilion. GI's AIDS Stamps invoke not only Robert Indiana's LOVE logo but also Klein's 1KB stamps in tbeir fc^rmat as well as hue. Latterly, the group took on the guise of doctors, tTiedical researchers not only attending to their own health but prescribing aes- thetic antidotes to the viral outbreak of AIDS.The artists' deference to Kleni takes



General Idea, Khroma Key Kfub.-The Blue Ruins from the (984 Miss General Idea

Pavillion, 1985, installation, mixed media, dimensions variable; installation view, De VIeeshal, Middelburg, Netherlands, 1985, Collection of General Idea,Toronto (art- work ©AA Bronson, photograph by Vim Riemens, Middelburg)



tbe form of extending his practices of impregnation through color and circul- ating their own aesthetic cures and infections in and beyond the art world.

Quoting Klein, they fastened on artistic borrowing as what he called "'seizing'

through impregnation in sensibihty" (Gl 6o), For ideas to be "in the air" was, for Klein, a sign of their immateriality and sophistication. Punning on the metaphors so important to Klein's "urbanism ofthe air," Gl enthused that "inspi- ration from other artists continued to arrive out ofthe blue," The text concludes with a section (later made into an artist's book) titled "XXXVoto," a reference to Klein's devotion to Saint Rita (c, 1381-c. 14^6), patron saint of lost causes and impossible projects, whose sbrine in Cascia, Italy, Klein visited many times, finally leaving an elaborate ex-voto there in 19^8. For tbe saint, Gl substituted its fictive muse. Miss General Idea, and tbanked her for ber "aeration ofthe breath- lessness of ultramarine" (Gl 63). In their prayers to tbe "XXX" patron of their lives, tbe artists ask that she migbt prevent enemies "from infecting us with anything tbat contaminates us, ever; please make us. and all your works, totally invulnerable" (Gl 64). But this prayer was the ultimate impossibility.Tbe group's fantasy of playing doctor was dystopian, as were some of tbeir final collabora- tions, the "infected abstracts" of Mondrian, Gerrit Rietveldt, and Ad Reinhardt. Two of GI's members died of AIDS soon after, and the group was disbanded.

Not all recent monochromes are paintings. Klein experimented with "pure" space and ligbt in an emptied room at the home of Colette Allendy that was part of a May 19^7 exhibition. He titled this zone of sensibility Les Surfaces et blocs de



General Idea, AIDS Stamps, 1988, offset on perforated paper, 10 x QV. in.(25.S x 21 cm); signed and numbered edition of 200, self-published. Collection of General Idea, Toronto (artwork © AA Bronson, photo- graph provided by General Idea,Toronto)

General Idea, Playing Doctor, 1992, chro- mogenic print (Ektachrome), 30x21 in. (76.2 X 53.3 cm); signed and numbered edition of 12, self-published. Collection of General Idea,Toronto (artwork ©AA Bronson, photograph provided by General Idea,Toronto)

22, Olafur Eliasson: Your only real thing is time. exh.

cat. (Boston: Institute of Contemporary Art, 2001), 20.

sensibilite picturak invisible and guided select viewers into tbis space of meditation. The nascent concept ofthe void as a palpably present absence would structure bis most notorious exhibition and performance, tbat of LeVitie in i95"8. His Zen and mystical leanings were driving a dematerializaticm in his art, which became more spiritual as the monochrome transmuted from pigrnetit on canvas to light in space. As McFvilley has emphasized, Klein painstakingly orchestrated the inter- actions of his monochrome paintings and monochrome spaces. In a text from Dimanche, for example, in which he described many aspects of bis own work, both extant and projected, Klein imagined an installation called Les Cinq Sailes: "In order to promote the direct experience of feeling and matter wiibout the inter- mediary of energy, spectators pass through five rooms, their feet bound by ball and chain. Nine monochrome blue paintings ofthe same format are in the first room; the second room is empty and entirely white; nine monogold paintings of the same format are in the third room; tbe fourth room is empty and dark, almost black; nine nionopink paintings ofthe same format are in the fifth rootn" (quoted in Sticb 213). Whether purposefully or not, in the 1997 Room for One Color, Olafur Eiiasson modified and extended Klein's monochrome theater. Ehasson states, "By putting this yellow filter on top of everything [the room] becomes like a picture. But since we are in the picture and in fact experiencing it. , , it becomes real again. By tnaking it hyper-representational, we have a real experi- ence—so tbat you see sometbing that you don't normally see.Tbe eyes have bet- ter vision when you have less color."" For Klein as for Eliasson, "abstract" in tbe

107 art journal

Yves Klein, l e Vide, 1958, installation view, Galerie Iris Clert, Paris (artwork © 2005 Estate ofYves Klein/ADAGP (Paris)/ SODRAC (Montreal), photograph provided by Archives Klein, Paris)

Olafur Eliasson, Room for one color, I 997, monofrequency lamp, variable dimen- sions, installation view, Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Germany. 2004 (artwork © Olafur Eliasson, photograph © Nic Tenwiggenhorn/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, photograph provided byTanya Bonakdar Gallery, NewYork)

sense of "removed from experience" was not the goal. The questions their analo- gous five-part installations pose is "better vision" of what, and in what sense? The ambient world or tbe constituents of vision itself? Would vision itself be "perception," do we have access to such a precultural operation, and if we do, what do we do witb this knowledge within an art context? If, as I am suggesting, we think of both works under the art-historical rubric ofthe tnonochrome—to which they clearly, if not exclusively, refer—we operate on the plane of culture's uses of color, perception, and Klein's sensibility, wbicb is where these artists make their contributions.

Mark A. Cheetham is a professor in the Graduate Department of History of Art and director of the Canadian Studies Program at the University of Toronto. His awards include a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship and a Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute Fellowship. His book Abstract Art against Autonomy will appear with Cambridge University Press in January 2006.