Blue Streak

'Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers'

At the age of nineteen, the mid-twentieth-century French artist Yves Klein signed the sky above Nice as his first artwork. The same year he began to compose a symphony that consisted of a single note for twenty minutes, followed by twenty minutes of absolute silence. Later, having renounced paintbrushes as “too excessively psychological,” Klein employed nude, paint-smeared female models as “living brushes.” And once, after emptying the Galerie Iris Clert in Paris of everything in it, he dubbed his exhibition “The Void.” These gestural flights, with which he rivaled Marcel Duchamp as an impresario of the improbable, once led Paris Match to call Klein “the greatest painter in the world.”

Born in Nice in 1928 to the figurative painter Fred Klein and Marie Raymond, an abstractionist, young Yves was an indifferent student whose first passion was judo. After spending a year in Japan (1952–53), where he earned a black belt, he was refused recognition by the French Judo Association and turned to art. His first exhibition, in 1955, was monochrome paintings of various sizes in vivid colors. This summer a selection of these early monochromes kicked off “Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers” at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C. (The title comes from...

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About the Author


Leo J. O’Donovan, SJ, a frequent contributor to Commonweal, is president emeritus of Georgetown University.