With its complex composition of progressively arching forms, ANT 131 is a stunning, large scale example from Yves Klein's groundbreaking series. Executed in vivid IKB, the artist's signature pigment, in this energetic work it is the movement of the model across the paper that invests the work with a theatrical, performative aura. Extending his exploration of the human form, the dramatic approach to making the Anthropométries evinced here is set apart from the ethereal technique seen in ANT 2, demonstrating Klein's inventiveness at different points in the series.
In the action orientated Anthropométries, Klein's pigment-covered models were directed to writhe, crawl or be dragged across sheets paper spread on the studio floor. In this drama, Klein positioned himself as director, choreographing the model's every movement. The accrued dabs and residual traces in pigment serve as an arresting record of the physical and temporal journey of the artwork's creation. The essence of Klein's exercise was to capture the energy of the process, so although the marks were made by the body, none of its specific features are left clearly printed on the paper. ANT 131 is a vigorous record of a single model's movement in time. From the thick smears of pigment, reiterating imprints of the model's breasts, abdomen and thighs signal an arching movement, as if the model were somersaulting in space, not dissimilar to Klein's legendary leap into the void. In the physical process of smearing pigment onto paper, the curves that define the female form blur into an elegant, balletic performance in which the transient movements of the figure are preserved for posterity.
The Anthropométries series – a term coined by Klein's friend the critic Pierre Restany – fell in the wake of the notorious event Anthropométries de l'Epoque bleu, staged at the Galerie Internationale d'Art Contemporain in the exclusive rue Saint-Honore in Paris on 9th March 1960. A select audience of gallery patrons and critics were seated around a central area covered in white paper, with another sheet of paper covering the walls. Meanwhile a twenty-strong orchestra started to play Klein's droning composition, the Monotone Symphony, which consisted of one note sustained for twenty minutes, followed by twenty minutes of silence. Three nude models with pails of IKB paint were led out by Klein, who was dressed in an impeccable tuxedo, and proceeded to direct them in applying paint to themselves. Two of the pigment-covered models, the agents in Klein's creative act, produced rhythmic patterns by pressing their bodies against the paper-lined walls; the third model – completely covered in paint – was dragged across the floor to create dynamic trails of blue pigment, the vestiges of her performance. Exposing the processes behind its creation, in the mass of anonymous forms in ANT 131 Klein enshrines the themes of orgasmic ecstasy and orgiastic chaos which underpinned the performance at the Galerie Internationale d'Art Contemporain in which Klein choreographed his naked female attendants before the collective voyeuristic gaze.
While life drawing was not a function of Klein's creative process, he had developed the practice of having nude models in his work space since he felt that the sensual climate that they engendered helped stabilise his Monochromes. "The shape of the body, its curves, its colours between life and death, are not of interest to me. It is the pure affective atmosphere that is valuable" (Yves Klein, 'Le Vrai Devient Réalité', cited in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Hayward Gallery, Yves Klein: Leap into the Void, 1995, p. 171). While Klein never used the models as direct figurative referents, they were fundamental to his creative process as he searched for a way of capturing their essence. This reached its pinnacle in the present series: "My models were my brushes. I made them smear themselves with colour and imprint themselves on canvas... But this was only the first step. I thereafter devised a sort of ballet of girls on a grand canvas which resembled the white mat of judo contests." (Ibid p. 172)
Klein's notion of models as 'living brushes' pinpoints his desire to eradicate the artist's hand from the creative process, and in so doing questions ideas of authenticity and authorship in art. Although stylistically referent to action painting, in ANT 131 Klein pointedly rejects the unrestrained gestural expression inherent to Abstract Expressionism in favour of a disciplined, premeditated, hands-off approach. The comparison between his work and judo is telling: both hinge on the treatment of the body as a source of physical, spiritual and sensorial energy, and the disciplined release of that energy to the outside. Klein equated the two feats, through the "Hours of preparation for something that is executed, with extreme precision in a few minutes. Just as with a judo throw" (Yves Klein, Selected Writings, 1928-1962, London 1974, p. 47).
The emphasis on the momentary has further resonances. The reiterated imprints of the breasts and thighs in ANT 131 recall the Duchamp's Futurist painting Nude Descending the Staircase, 1912, or Giacomo Balla's, Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash of the same year, where legs whir into a haze in an attempt for painting to capture the speed of the modern, industrial age. However, rather than depict the vitality of speed, Klein chose to have the motion literally performed in front of him. He was making a stand for art as spectacle, for immediacy, for destabilising the notion of facture, and for deconstructing the process of image making. In so doing, he sewed the seed of performance based art that proliferated throughout the 1970s and forced the critical reorientation of art that took place in the decades that followed his early death. In the Anthropométries de l'Epoque bleu performance, Klein announced the arrival of the artist as ringmaster, and his ritualistic application of paint by remote control can be seen to reach a climax in ANT 131. Lyrical and graceful in its composition, ANT 131 is one of the earliest milestones in the history of Conceptual Art.
Pigment in synthetic resin on paper laid down on canvas
Los Angeles, Dwan Gallery, Yves Klein le Monochrome, 1961
Krefeld, Kaiser Wilhelm Museum, Sammlung Helga und Walther Lauffs - Amerikanische und europäische Kunst der sechziger und siebziger Jahre, 1983-84, p. 32, no. 192, illustrated in colour
Krefeld, Museen Haus Esters und Haus Lange, Im weißen Raum, Lucio Fontana, Yves Klein, 1994-95, p. 70, no. 20, illustrated in colour
164.5 by 120cm. 64 3/4 by 47 1/4 in.
Paul Wember, Yves Klein, Cologne 1969, p. 113, illustrated
Dwan Gallery, Los Angeles
Dwan Gallery, New York
Galerie Bonnier, Geneva
Galerie Thomas, Munich
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 1972