The Third French Republic 1870-1940. Part 14

5 October 2022

  Zoom lecture


Yves Klein and Radical Art in 1960s Paris

with Anne Catherine Abecassis


Yves Klein's first vocation was judo. In 1954 he, however, turned to art, driven by the idea of "freeing color from the prison of the line" and began his "Monochrome Adventure". For him, that was the only way to paint that allowed him to "make the absolute visible”. According to Klein, beauty exists in an invisible state so that the task of the artist was to capture it, whether in the air or in matter. He eventually made his entire life into a work of art (“art is everywhere the artist is”) revolutionizing the artist's function in the art world and society.


We will follow his radical evolution in themes and techniques from his initial monochromes, his use of the void, the body as a brush, and his use of blue and gold as passages to the absolute. His work crossed for the first time in France all the boundaries between conceptual, body and happening art. Klein inspired a whole new generation of artists in France who came to be known as the “Nouveaux Réalistes” all, like their contemporaries in the US – Rauschenberg, Johns or Oldenburg – in rebellion against the aesthetics of the 1950s.


Under the guidance of critic Pierre Restany, French New Realism, was founded in October 1960, by a joint declaration signed by Arman, Martial Raysse, Daniel Spoerri, Jean Tinguely, Jacques de la Villeglé and later César, Mimmo Rotella, Niki de Saint Phalle and Gérard Deschamps. Yves Klein died shortly afterwards in 1962 at the age of 34, but is still, to this day, considered the saint patron of the rebellious and romantic spirit of 1960s art in France.

Portrait of Yves Klein made during the shooting of Peter Morley "The Heartbeat of France"., 1961
Portrait of Yves Klein made during the shooting of Peter Morley "The Heartbeat of France"., 1961

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