Editorial of May 27th 2010

Denys Riout




Seminar of May 27th 2010
Kaira Cabanas is a Lecturer and Director of the MA program in Modern Art at Columbia University in New York. She received her PhD from Princeton University in 2007 and is currently preparing her first book, The Myth of Nouveau Réalisme: Pierre Restany and the Neo-Avantgarde. Cabañas’s writings have appeared in Grey Room, Les Cahiers du Musée national d’art moderne, and Art Journal, as well as in various catalogues such as Yves Klein: Corps, couleur, immatériel (2006), Le Nouveau Réalisme (2007), and Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers (Walker Art Center, 2010).

        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 Artaud.

Artaud’s Ghost

        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 universe.”
        While Klein’s 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

        Klein’s 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 monochrome blue.”
        Klein’s 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.
        Artaud’s 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, 1995.
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.



Fig.1.Yves Klein, Yves Klein, propositions monochromes, 1957. Film enlargement.
(Filmed on the second floor of Colette Allendy’s exhibition space)

Fig. 2. Colette Allendy in front of her house and gallery, 67 rue de l’Assomption, Paris 1957.


Fig. 3. Yves Klein, La conférence à la Sorbonne, 3 June 1959.


Fig. 4. Yves Klein, Dimanche, 1960. Directed by Albert Weil, 4 minutes. Film enlargement.


Fig. 5. Yves Klein, Dimanche, 1960. Directed by Albert Weil, 4 minutes. Film enlargement.