After the immersive installation featuring Gustav Klimt at the Atelier des Lumières in Paris, it’s Yves Klein’s turn to get the augmented-reality treatment. See you this summer in Nice for a digital dive into the “blue Revolution”. A real eyeful!
Yves Klein was born in Nice… in 1928. So it comes as no surprise that the 90th year since his birth is being celebrated this year on the French Riviera. Where things get a bit more unforeseen is that the exhibition-homage in his honour is being held… in the middle of a shopping centre: Nicetoile, in other words 19,600 m² wholly devoted to blatantly consumerist desires. But the most hair-raising detail about the venture is the hanging: an immersive installation that flirts with augmented reality! In short, from the art of shopping to the art market, Yves Klein, the eternal apostle of the intangible, returns in a digital version. Here, original works have been digitised and transformed into 3D ultra-HD format by the company LEXPO Augmentée, in collaboration with Artcurial Culture. Titled “La vibration de la couleur” (The vibration of colour), this first module of a digital retrospective set to travel around for a period of ten years is an absolute wonder. But let’s first take a step back in time…
We’re at the start of the 1960s. Castro has just come into power in Cuba, while in New York, economist John Kenneth Galbraith is on the verge of publishing The Affluent Society. Against this backdrop, in Europe, the Nouveaux Réalistes (New Realists), led by art critic Pierre Restany, offer their take on seeing objects. As distant cousins of the American Pop Art movement, the members of this somewhat hazy collective set to work in earnest. Exaltation of the object, a sense of performance, appropriation of reality… The preoccupations of New Realism are complex. The series of works began with Martial Raysse’s plastic objects, flamboyant icons of consumer society, and finished off with the compressed car wrecks dear to César, the ultimate figures of entropy. To put a little order into this collective rush of fever, Pierre Restany threw on board one of the postulates to which he alone held the secret: “New realism = new perceptive approaches to reality.” The die was cast. On Thursday 27 October 1960, the New Realists signed, at the Parisian home of Yves Klein on Rue Campagne-Première, a founding declaration for the movement. Drafted by Restany in nine copies, the manifesto was “the indispensable prelude to the Blue Revolution”. Thereon followed ten years of creation that spawned astonishing sculptures, smashed pianos, sundry accumulations and barricades made of rusty petrol barrels. On 27 November 1970, the group was dissolved with great pomp and circumstance, upon the tenth anniversary of New Realism in Milan. Everything had been said. But let’s get back to Klein.
When the “Void Exhibition” filled up
Paris, 28 April 1958. It was in a bare-walled gallery that Yves Klein showed “le Vide”, the void. Iris Clert’s gallery was entirely repainted in white for the occasion. On the picture rails, not a single painting, nothing but “le Vide”. No more, no less. To create a bit more atmosphere, roadside windows were covered in the famous “Klein blue”, which added a surreal touch to the scene. It was within this blue girdle that everything would be played out. At number 3 on the Rue des Beaux-Arts, French Republican Guards welcomed visitors invited to an atypical opening. At the entrance, blue cocktails were served to lovers of new sensations. The only off note in this colourful scene was that the French Prefecture took exception to the bluish illumination of the Obelisk on the Place de la Concorde. But no big deal – this “Exposition du Vide” pulled in the crowds, each soaking in the venue’s feel. There was talk of cosmic energy and universal ideals… With his knack for moulding passions, Klein was at the summit of his art at the time. Both bold and lyrical, he would declare that “in the heart of the void as well as the heart of man, there are fires that burn.” This was it: the intangible claimed its victory.
Act two: the pressure goes up a notch
Klein had glimpsed these “fires that burn” early on. As of his first monochrome canvases at the start of the 1950s, he had perceived the intensity of pure colour. Following in the trail of Malevich and his White Square on White painted in 1918, Klein valiantly continued to explore limits. Using a paint roller to cover canvases in the one colour, his Propositions mononchromes would open the way to a new “pictorial sensibility”. From 1957 onwards, his fascination with powdered pigments prompted Klein to kick off his “blue period”. An original dark blue, picked up from the depths of the colour spectrum. A blue verging on ultramarine, so unthinkable that in the absence of an apt existing name, a new name was invented for it: IKB, for International Klein Blue. The famous “Klein blue”, carved out from the skies of Nice, lifted off the edges of Giotto’s paintings, would become the artist’s signature. So much so that it would, from then on, crop up everywhere. In his paintings of course, but also his reliefs, his little Winged Victory figures and his globes, his sponges soaking in this colour, this “concentrated poetic energy”.
But Klein didn’t stop there. The “Blue Revolution” was underway. In November 1959, the artist made his first sale of a “zone of intangible pictorial sensibility”. Say what? In short, Klein sold air. The air of Paris, several squre cubes of Vide, a bit of blue sky? One thing is certain in any case: in exchange for an invoice, the lucky buyer handed over 160 grammes of fine gold – which Klein immediately threw into the Seine!
Blue sponge forests
Klein was a big fan of this type of ritual. Practising both judo and Rosicrucianism, the visionary Klein, a knight of the medieval order of St. Sebastian, cultivated a taste for performance. Which he proved once again on 9 March 1960 with his stunt in public, in collaboration with three naked women. These women became “live paintbrushes” after they applied their bodies, smeared with blue paint, on sheets of white paper to leave their prints… For good measure, Klein played, before the entranced audience, his Symphonie monoton: one single continuous note held for 20 minutes by an orchestra of 20 musicians. It was in this climate of worldly eroticism, tinged with a vague spirituality, that the master of ceremonies, dressed in a tux and white gloves, signed his famous Anthropométries.
And that’s not all. On 27 November, from the top of a suburban house, Klein made his “leap into the void”. Several months later, he produced, using a flamethrower, his first Peintures de feu in a Gaz de France (French gas company) test facility. He created forests of blue sponges, gold monochromes, worked on his Architecture de l’air project, started his Portraits-reliefs series of blue-painted body casts… A creator of utopias and the last great mystic, Yves Klein died on 6 June 1962, suddenly plunging into the “infinite expansion of the universe”, struck down by a heart attack at the age of 34 years.
The digital exhibition
Today, nearly 60 years after his death, Klein continues to fascinate us. The relationships between emptiness and fullness, the bridges between the material and the spiritual… Everything works a spell on viewers. The organisers of the new exhibition obviously understand this appeal, and in close collaboration with the Archives Yves Klein, they have set up an exhibition designed for the general public. Klein is back in a big way, thumbing his nose at conventionalism, in this visual and sound immersion in blue. For this is no less than a new concept in contemporary-art exhibitions as it revolutionises the rules of the genre and pushes back the borders of classic art shows. The idea? To augment the viewer’s experience, in the vein of the immersive installation around the work of Gustav Klimt, held by the Atelier des Lumières, the Parisian digital-art centre managed by Culturespaces. Meanwhile, the project in Nice, dedicated to Yves Klein, is being staged by the company LEXPO Augmentée, specialised in reinterpreting artistic heritage through pop-up exhibitions, digital ephemeral shows outside your run-of-the-mill venue. Founded by Isabelle de Montfumat, the exhibition curator, LEXPO Augmentée chose the Nicetoile shopping centre to celebrate the inventor of the IKB blue. “La Vibration de la couleur” is therefore the first of four works scheduled to travel the world in the next ten years before returning to Europe in 2028, the year marking the centenary of Yves Klein’s birth.
Need we specify that here, the scenography is synced with the visitors’ movements? All part of the touch, visual and acoustic procedures that allow them to interact with Klein’s work. Interaction amplified by Leap Motion, a hand-movement recognition system whose sensors enable viewers to pivot Klein’s sculptures and Reliefs while manipulating the void! Ears are also in for an experience with the Symphonie monoton, diffused in an “octophonic” version… So get ready for your senses to be tickled, and plunge into the deep blue of augmented reality!
This augmented-reality exhibition is enhanced by an additional development: a digital application. Let’s note that in 1957, the Galerie Iris Clert organised, for the opening of the exhibition “Yves le Monochrome”, the release of a thousand-and-one balloons in the sky over the Parisian district of Saint Germain-des-Prés. The performance, baptised Sculpture aérostatique, will be re-enacted this summer… in cyberspace! To mark 90 years since Yves Klein’s birth, visitors can download a special app and activate, in augmented reality, 101 blue and white balloons on their smartphones and tablet devices…
“L’expo augmentée Yves Klein. La vibration de la couleur”, until 30 September. Centre Nicetoile, first floor, 30 avenue Jean-Médecin, Nice. www.nicetoile.com