All I knew of Yves Klein was his electric ultramarine-blue canvases. Is it the blue of the sky? The ocean? How long can I stare at a blue rectangle and ponder what it means? The International Klein Blue, which I first saw at MoMa, is meant to capture the immaterial—“the spirit and sensibility that the color of the sky and the sea alone can produce.” And it was this—capturing the conceptual, the thought, not the material object—that made Yves Klein’s crazy blue rectangle a turning point in modern art.
But, beyond that, I didn’t know much about the French artist or his work. So the new exhibit at the Hirshhorn opened up the rest of his short (only seven years), but intense, artistic career to me. Wind, rain, weeds … you name it, Klein dragged it, imprinted it, or scorched it onto a canvas. He experimented with fire and gold, and he famously used “living brushes,” nude women who smeared themselves in the Klein Blue and made imprints onto huge canvases.
The Hirshhorn exhibit is like an acid trip in conceptualism. Just when you’re getting deep into the blue, you step into a room of scorched cardboard that can make you think of sexy nudes, or the Hiroshima blast, depending on where, or how, you’re looking. The best part of the exhibit? The art totally comes alive in the artist’s process, showcased in documentaries playing in each of the rooms.
“With the Void, Full Powers” is the first major retrospective of Klein’s work in nearly three decades, and it’s such a treat that it’s right here at the Hirshhorn. I’m also kind of giddy for the upcoming “In Conversation” event, where Klein’s widow, Rotraut Klein-Moquay, visits the Hirsshorn to discuss his life and works. That happens on Wednesday, June 9, at 7 p.m.