Saturday, November 9, 2013

Yves Klein | Yves Peintures

Yves Klein
Yves Peintures
Madrid, Spain: Self-published, 1954
16 pp., 24.4 cm by 19.7 cm, unbound
Edition of 150

Yves Paintings, as the title translates into English, is a small booklet produced by Klein at the engraving workshop of Franco de Sarabia in Madrid. It is now highly regarded in the canon of artists' books, though few have seen a copy. Produced almost sixty years ago, in a small edition of 150, it is estimated that no more than 10 copies have survived. The Yves Klein archives state that the bookwork is the artist's "first public artistic action".

The title is ostensibly a catalogue of monochromatic paintings created by Klein in a variety of cities, between the years of 1951 and 1954. The artist had conceived of the monochrome as early as February '51, when it is recorded in his journal. His friends Claude Pascal and the artist Arman date the earliest examples to 1949 and 1948, respectively. These early paintings were exhibited privately, in Klein's room, and shown only to friends. Shortly afterward Klein destroyed them.

A few years later, while in Spain teaching Judo (he was a black belt, with a rank of Yodan, and later published a book on the subject) Klein and Pascal produced the book at de Sarabia's father's print shop, using money from his Aunt Rose, who was often financially supportive of his art practice.

Despite the inclusion of a forward by Pascal consisting only of horizontal black lines, it was not until 1976 that the work began to receive critical attention as anything other than an act of fraud. In a monograph published as late as 1982 (Yves Klein A Retrospective 1928 - 1962) the author seems uncertain as to whether or not the bookwork was intended as a "deception." The thinking was that Klein was hoping to impress the abstract painters of Paris with a document reproducing his paintings, back-dating them and crediting the place of creation as Madrid, Nice, Tokyo, Paris and London. The tipped in plates in the book were not photographic images of paintings at all, however, they were pieces of inked paper.

In a manuscript dated January 1955, Klein wrote:  ‘Last night, Wednesday, we went to an abstract cafe […], the abstracts were there. They are easy to recognize because they give off the air of abstract paintings and their paintings become visible in their eyes. Maybe I have illusions, but I feel like I can see it all. Anyway, we sat down with them… Then we got around to talking about the book Yves Peintures. Later on, as they insisted that I show it to them, I went to get it from the car and threw it on the table. Already, right from the first pages, the eyes of the abstracts changed: they lit up and deep down appeared the beautiful and pure unified colors’.

This text presumably led most scholars to accept the angle that Klein set out to falsely establish himself as a painter of note.

Alongside the obvious give away of the non-forward, other clues as to the artist's intentions include the fact that the actual dimensions of the "reproductions" were included, in millimetres (though the unit is not specified) and the fact that a second book, produced simultaneously, attributes to the same paintings to an unknown artist. Haguenault Peintures, the pseudonym  apparently chosen after the name of a brand of gingerbread, is almost identical to Yves Peintures, though the suggestion seems to be that the fictional artist was a painter of considerable stature, with the works being held in a variety of private collections. Curator and Art Historian Sidra Stich noted “The fact that there were two different monochrome artists featured in two nearly identical booklets augmented the manifestations of doubling, duplication and duplicity that lay at the core of the project.”

The book is now viewed as an even more extreme gesture than the actual monochromes that followed: non-reproductions of non-existant paintings.

Further information:

The wikipedia page (one of the lengthiest on the topic of an artist book).

The Yves Klein archives, including a full scan of several copies, including one signed to his Aunt Rose, who funded the project. 

A recent post on

The 1976 dissertation which first looked beyond the notion of a fraudulent monograph. 

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