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Yves Klein. Top whack for ethereal art

[17 Jul 2018]

Yves Klein – who would have been 90 in 2018 – is one of the most sought-after French artists of all time.

Yves KLEIN (1928-1962) is in fact the most expensive French artist from the second half of the 20th century. In many respects he owes his exceptional market success to his adventurous and open mind that led him towards Leo Castelli’s gallery in New York in 1961. Castelli was of course the pioneering gallerist who discovered, among others, Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol, and who contributed to making New York the world’s capital of art.

Such influential support allowed Klein to quickly establish a high-end price range, and, by the end of the 1980s, Yves Klein’s works were already fetching million-plus results. The rise in prices accelerated in the 2000s reaching an initial peak in 2008 when with three major works sold between 17 and 24 million dollars each at New York’s prestige sales. That year, Yves Klein’s work generated an auction turnover of nearly $92 million… an unprecedented total for a French Contemporary artist. But the inflation didn’t stop there: in 2012, Christie’s offered two major works: the first at their May sale in New York was a majestic three-metre fire anthropometry (FC1 (Fire Color 1)), the last created before his death. The work reached nearly $36.5 million. The following month, Christie’s hammered an even better price ($36.7 million) in London for a sponge-relief impregnated with pink pigments: Le Rose du bleu (RE 22). These big results made Klein one of the few French artists capable of competing with the most expensive 20th century American artists. But such works are rare… Yves Klein specialists have inventoried just under 200 monochromes painted during a seven-year career. The bulk of the most impressive works is already in museums, with the Pompidou Center in Paris owning around twenty.

Nevertheless, more affordable Klein works do exist, including sculptures impregnated with blue edited in 300 copies. The New Realists like Arman or Caesar appropriated objects from everyday consumption in their works. The “guardian of blue” also appropriated emblematic sculptures from art history including Michelangelo’s famous Dying Slave, the Winged Victory of Samothrace and the Venus of Alexandria. In his “poetic recycling”, Yves Klein soaked these historical icons with colour. Prices for these emblematic works range from $50,000 for a Dying Slave to an average of $150,000 for a Winged Victory of Samothrace

Impregnation of our daily reality…

On the occasion of his exhibition titled The Void in 1958, Yves Klein tricked guests to his opening by serving a cocktail containing methylene blue. When the guests used the bathroom, they realized that they had been impregnated “from within”, without knowing… That was just one example of how Yves Klein amused himself by spreading his YKB; another was by dyeing postage stamps for the invitation cards to his exhibitions at Iris Clert and Colette Allendy (between 1957 and 1959). Some forty letters bearing these blue stamps are known to exist, of which two envelopes sold for $4,500 and $4,800 at the French auctioneer Cornette de Saint-Cyr in April 2018.

A number of other everyday objects have caught the attention of collectors: these include his transparent coffee tables filled with blue, pink or gold leaf pigments. Their production was initiated by Klein in 1961 and has since been supervised by his widow, Mrs Rotraut Klein-Moquay. On average you will need to pay between $20,000 and $30,000 to acquire one of these tables… bearing in mind that no-one seems to know exactly how many have been produced…

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