In July 1960,
in the pages of the international artist magazine Zero,
Yves Klein offered the following retrospective glance on his work:
All my past manifestations
have been EVENTS. On the occasion of my first presentation of
the “VOID” in 1957 at Colette Allendy’s, I already
liberated the entire “THEATRICAL” theatre in a SINGLE
blow, freed it from its yoke, the AGE-OLD yoke of PERSPECTIVE!
In this passage,
Klein refers to his presentation of an empty room on the second
floor of the Galerie Colette Allendy, an invisible work that he
documented in both photography and film. A film sequence from
that year shows Klein in the space as he points to an invisible
painting and in the following shots acts out the various subject
positions that a contemporary viewer might occupy (e.g., artist,
amateur, buyer). As I elsewhere suggest, this space of what Klein
called “pictorial sensibility” was not so much empty
as it was haunted—haunted, that is, by the specter of Antonin
67 rue de l’Assomption
was both the gallery address and home of Colette Allendy, who
offered lodging to Artaud during his sojourns in Paris in the
late 40s. In this way, Colette Allendy continued the support—both
psychic and material—provided by the home’s previous
inhabitants. Her late-husband, the Dr. René Allendy, counted
Artaud among his patients, while Yvonne Allendy, her sister, had
supported Artaud’s short-lived Théâtre Alfred
Jarry in the 1930s. At issue here is not whether one believes
that Artaud’s ghost was an invisible presence in the space
of “pictorial sensibility,” but rather that Klein
repeatedly invoked Artaud—when not in spirit than in fact—in
his practice, a detail that remains largely unremarked in the
critical literature surrounding his work. To cite just one example:
during his lecture at the Sorbonne on June 3, 1959, Klein transmitted
via tape recorder a cry by art critic Charles Estienne, a “monotone
cry” by François Dufrêne, and also a “very
beautiful cry” by none other than Artaud.
Given the scope
of this presentation, I will not delve at length into Artaud’s
writing on theatre or his late 1940s work for radio such as Pour
en finir avec le jugement de dieu (To Have Done with the
Judgment of God, 1948), suffice it to recall that Le Théâtre
et son double (The Theatre and Its Double, 1938) argued in
no uncertain terms against theater’s subordination to language,
understood as both writing (i.e., plot) and intelligible speech.
Artaud’s theater was not a spectacle to be looked at from
a distance, but one to be lived by the spectator from within the
singularity of the spatiotemporal experience it created. Artaud
insisted, “no gap between life and theater.”
Just as Artaud
sought to go beyond psychological theater, Klein charted a “new
space” for painting by championing pure color over line—the
latter, he tellingly claimed, perpetuated a “reign of cruelty.”
And he ultimately abandoned color in the service of “immaterial
pictorial sensibility.” In the citation with which I began,
Klein aligns the space of painting with that of theatre: both
share an institutionalized model of spectatorship premised on
one-point perspective and consequently the frontal perpendicularity
between the viewing subject and object of representation. As a
means by which to “circumvent the linear transitivity of
visual confrontation” in painting, Klein attempted, as did
Artaud, to abandon the space of representation for that of the
event. There are differences and reversals of terms, to be sure,
particularly as it comes to bear on the question of spectatorship
and in Klein’s work to which I will now turn.
Dimanche, le journal d’un seul jour
The question of
spectatorship took center stage in Klein’s four-page newspaper
Dimanche, which served as his contribution to the Second
Festival of Avant-Garde Art. Given the potential that his “theatrical”
production might go unnoticed, Klein advertised the work in this
format, mimicking channels of mass communication such as the “real”
Journal du Dimanche (the Sunday edition of the Paris
daily France-Soir). He distributed his paper to various
Parisian kiosks on November 27, 1960. Under the column heading
“Actualité,” Klein explained his decision to
“present the ultimate form of collective theater that is
a Sunday for everybody.” He declared a “day of festival,
a true spectacle of the void.” Klein’s theater had
as its objective “the pleasure of being, of living,”
his field of operation ultimately extending to the “entire
words may evoke the work of sociologist Irving Goffman, whose
1956 book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life regards
the everyday as a type of “theater,” what is in fact
more noteworthy in this context are the terms the artist employed
to historicize his theater in the lead article “Theatre
du Vide” (Theater of the Void) as well as his proposals
for various theatrical scenarios. Klein wrote, “For me ‘theater’
is not at all a synonym for ‘representation’ or ‘spectacle.’”
With this statement, Klein simultaneously acknowledged a long
lineage of avant-garde experimentation and disavowed his work’s
relation to that of other directors—from Constantin Stanislavsky
to his contemporary Jacques Polieri. Klein affirmed that his work
“has absolutely nothing to do with any of these directions
or research [in theater]…except perhaps with those of Antonin
Artaud, who sensed the coming of what I propose here today.”
Proposals for the theatre
published script proposals evoke a desire for immediacy and direct
communication. For Sensibilité pure (Pure Sensibility),
Klein explained that the spectators take their seats, while a
man on stage announces, “Ladies and Gentlemen, due to circumstances,
this evening we are forced to chain everyone to their seats (and,
in addition, to gag you) for the duration of the performance.
This measure of security is necessary in order to protect you
from yourselves in the presence of this particularly dangerous
performance from the point of view of pure affection.” While
a group of “chainers” and “gaggers” enters
the auditorium, a “fizzing” sound acoustically fills
the space. The first half of the performance is filled with the
fizzing sound, while the second half is silent. Only after the
complete hour has passed are the spectators set free. Consider
also, for example, Klein’s proposal for Stupéfaction
monochrome (Monochrome Stupefaction) in which the “convened
spectators enter an empty room” and receive “blue
pills to be consumed on the spot. Two or three minutes later,
they collapse under the effect of the drug.” Falling into
an “agreeable dynamic torpor,” they experience a “uniform
scripts thematize a body, one forcibly subjected to or even overpowered
by sensation in a way that effectively breaks the “protective
barrier” that traditionally separated viewers from the stage.
Klein hoped to restore the purity of presence in his work, one
without difference, and one not subjected to line—what he,
let us recall, called a “reign of cruelty.” But Klein’s
theater proposals remain no less governed by other techniques
of power—here territorialized in a modality of forced reception
dependent on Klein as sovereign director. Klein’s scenarios
suggest an outright assault, both external and internal, on their
prospective viewers, one already anticipated in his ritualized
production of Le vide.
aesthetic was also about an assault on spectatorship; he described
his desire to “mesmerize the audience’s sensibilities”
and to “surround the spectator in the most physical ways,
leaving him immersed in a constant pool of lights, images, movements,
and sounds.” With Klein’s use of a newspaper as support
for his work, however, the reader is not so much forced to experience
his proposed events and their intense sensations as he or she
is sensationally informed about them. Indeed, the private mode
of reading inherent to Klein’s newspaper runs counter to
Artaud’s aim to unleash the senses. This disparity is clear
in Klein’s film produced on the occasion of Dimanche’s
publication. With Dimanche, Klein seemed to deliver his
work and its sensible effects wholly to the newspaper’s
commodified form as well as its informational conceit.
From fiction to reality
Even so, Klein’s
work goes beyond mere mimesis or complicit identification with
the newspaper as a media form in two important ways. First, the
physical excessiveness that Klein’s theatre proposals describe
might be historically specific given the fraught context of the
French-Algerian War. In fictional form, Klein describes a violence
that the French state did not want made public in the fall of
1960, thereby bringing the reality of the street to his proposals
for the stage. Second, Klein sent eight copies of Dimanche
to the Ministère de l’Information (Ministry of Information),
with a letter noting that in doing so he was acting “in
compliance with the law.” Klein’s newspaper went from
being “fake” to “real” given that it was
seemingly registered at the Ministry. By thus acting “in
compliance with the law,” Klein recognized the newspaper
as a site that regulates the domain of speakable discourse. (Recall
that, just three months earlier the Manifeste des 121
had been censored in France).
As the opening
quote made clear, Klein maintained that all his works had been
“events.” I would like to suggest that the “event”
of Dimanche is less the content of the theatre described
therein than how Klein mobilized the performative efficacy of
newspaper conventions: e.g., masthead, headline and lead story,
photographs with captions, even using the exact typography of
the real Dimanche. That is, for Klein’s work to
take effect—for Dimanche’s publication to
become a “real” event—he both replicates newspaper
conventions and by his own account works within the purview of
the law. Moreover, he further legitimizes Dimanche through
the newspaper’s sale. The various moments of commercial
exchange documented in the film show how the newspaper’s
“message” was taken up—that is, literally purchased
and then read—by a prospective addressee.
From his dubious
“origin” documented in Yves Peintures to
the immateriality of Le vide, Dimanche similarly
demonstrates how the “reality” of Klein’s work
is an effect of his repeated recourse to convention and to commerce,
to the authorized sites of politics (e.g., Ministry of Information)
and to the economy (e.g., the kiosk). In this way, Klein’s
events do not resist representation—as Artaud would repeatedly
attempt to do in theory if not in fact—but rather Klein’s
work is knowingly performative. Dimanche depends on precisely
the facts and practices that govern the appearance of a message
and is bound to both social convention and public ritual. Klein
desired his work to pass from representation to event, fiction
to reality, but Dimanche was a theatrical success only
in so far as it was made visible and thus legitimate by Klein
documenting and selling the news.
Artaud, Antonin. The Theatre and Its Double.
Translated by Victor Corti. London: Calder & Boyars, 1970.
Bois, Yve-Alain. “Klein’s Relevance
for Today.” October, 119 (Winter 2007): 75-93.
Buchloh, Benjamin H.D. “Plenty or Nothing:
From Yves Klein’s Le vide to Arman’s Le
plein.” In Neo-Avantgarde and Culture Industry.
Cambridge and London: The MIT Press, 2000.
Charlet, Nicolas. Yves Klein, machine à
peindre. Grignan, France: Éditions Complicités
et Colophon, 2003.
Debord, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle.
Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith. New York, NY: Zone Books,
Derrida, Jacques. “La parole soufflé”
and “The Theater of Cruelty and the Closure of Representation.”
In Writing and Difference. Translated by Alan Bass. Chicago:
The University of Chicago Press, 1978.
Hollier, Denis. “The Death of Paper, Part
Two: Artaud’s Sound System.” October, 80
(Spring 1997): 27-37.
Klein, Yves. Le dépassement de la
problématique de l’art et autres écrits.
Edited by Marie-Anne Sichère and Didier Semin. Paris: École
Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, 2003.
Klein, Yves. Overcoming the Problematics
of Art: The Writings of Yves Klein. Translated by Klaus Ottmann.
Putnam, CT: Spring Publications, 2007.
Riout, Denys. Yves Klein: Manifester l’immatériel.
Paris: Éditions Gallimard, 2004.
Rosenthal, Nan. “Assisted Levitation.”
In Yves Klein, 1928-1962: A Retrospective. Houston: Institute
for the Arts, Rice University; New York, The Arts Publisher, 1982.
Sirinelli, Jean-François. “Les intellectuels
français dans la bataille.” In La France en Guerre
d’Algérie, novembre 1954-juillet 1962. Edited
by Laurent Gervereau, Jean-Pierre Rioux, and Benjamin Stora. Paris:
Musée d’Histoire Contemporaine—BDIC, 1992.
Villeglé, Jacques. Cheminements 1943/1959.
Saint-Julien Molin Molette, France: Les Sept Collines, 1999.
Klein, Yves Klein, propositions monochromes, 1957.
(Filmed on the second floor of Colette Allendy’s exhibition
2. Colette Allendy in front of her house and gallery, 67
rue de l’Assomption, Paris 1957.
3. Yves Klein, La conférence à la Sorbonne,
3 June 1959.
4. Yves Klein, Dimanche, 1960. Directed by Albert
Weil, 4 minutes. Film enlargement.
5. Yves Klein, Dimanche, 1960. Directed by Albert
Weil, 4 minutes. Film enlargement.