'I seek to put the spectator in front of the fact that colour is an individual, a character, a personality. I solicit a receptivity from the observer placed before my works, this permits him to consider everything that effectively surrounds the monochrome painting. Thus he can impregnate himself with colour and colour impregnates itself in him. Thus, perhaps, he can enter into the world of colour'
(Y. Klein, quoted in S. Stitch, Yves Klein, Cologne 1994, p. 66).
'While working on my paintings in my studio I sometimes used sponges. Evidently, they very quickly turned blue! One day I perceived the beauty of blue in the sponge, this working tool all of a sudden became a primary medium for me. The sponge has that extraordinary capacity to absorb and become impregnated with whatever fluid, which was naturally very seductive to me. Thanks to the natural and living nature of sponges, I was able to make portraits of the readers of my monochromes, which, after having seen and travelled into the blue of my paintings, returned from them completely impregnated with sensibility, just as the sponges'
(Y. Klein, quoted in Yves Klein: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Houston, 1982, p. 111).
Floating mysteriously aloft, Yves Klein's ethereal, ultramarine blue constellation, SE 181, perfectly embodies the essence of the artist's celebrated Sculptures éponges. Drenched in Klein's signature International Klein Blue, the supremely elegant form of oceanic sponge is one of only three, extremely rare iterations in the artist's oeuvre in that it is suspended from an organic trunk; trunk, base and sponge rendered all in blue. For the majority of Klein's oeuvre, the sculptures appear as celestial flowers, the bulbous heads like fertile blooms atop slim metal stems. In SE 181 however, the work stands proud like a tree, remembering the forests of coral that populate the world's oceans. With its unusually large and beautifully intricate architecture of buttresses and caverns, SE 181 eludes easy classification, belonging to the sea, the bright sky of the Mediterranean and to another otherworldly dimension. Constantly transforming with the incidence of light, brilliantly illuminating the sponge's infinitely complex structure, SE 181 invites the viewer into Klein's shimmering immaterial realm. For Klein this was a place beyond Earth's confines, entered through an all-encompassing, engulfing concentration of blue. In one of the artist's greatest experiments, Klein installed a multitude of Sculptures éponges in conjunction with a number of intense IKB monochrome pictures at the Galerie Iris Clert in Paris. The exhibition entitled Bas-Reliefs dans une forêt d'éponges, created what appeared to be an entire environment, a blue cosmos as part of the artist's radical blue revolution. Undertaken in 1960, the year after this landmark exhibition, SE 181 was made at the apogee of Klein's career. Forming part of the same collection since 1986, this is the first time SE 181 has been seen by the public for over twenty-five years.
A central motif in his career, Klein's sponges were seminal in the development of his theories regarding the Immaterial, first captured in his blue monochromes. The sponge first suggested itself to Klein as a medium for his art when he began to use it as a means of distancing his hand, the act of painting and all concept of painterliness or 'peinture', from the creation of his monochromes. 'While working on my paintings in my studio,' he recalled, 'I sometimes used sponges. Evidently, they very quickly turned blue! One day I perceived the beauty of blue in the sponge, this working tool all of a sudden became a primary medium for me. The sponge has that extraordinary capacity to absorb and become impregnated with whatever fluid, which was naturally very seductive to me. Thanks to the natural and living nature of sponges, I was able to make portraits to the readers of my monochromes, which, after having seen and travelled into the blue of my paintings, returned from them completely impregnated with sensibility, just as the sponges' (Y. Klein, quoted in Yves Klein: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Houston, 1982, p. 111).
Thus, Klein's sponge sculptures emerged from his monochrome painting practice and were exhibited at an extraordinarily original and pioneering show at Galerie Iris Clert. Invoking the notion of an entirely new nature, the exhibition was intended to open the idea of Klein's 'blue monochrome adventure' up to the whole world, by creating a completely new landscape of 'the immaterial', here taking the form of an entire world populated by blue sponges. This spatial play of sponge forms intimated at individual and seemingly floating sponges, functioning like the spectators, and entering into a dialogue with the picture-like reliefs that aligned the walls. Engulfing the gallery and enveloping the viewer, Klein's sponges and reliefs were intended to convert the whole of Iris Clert's gallery space into a magical and multidimensional arena infused with mystical potential. In this way the viewer themselves became an active participant, seemingly immersed into the midst of a strange parallel world where the transcendental sense of communion between artwork and viewer that Klein sought to establish in all his work and which the all absorbing sponge encapsulated and symbolised for him, visibly appeared to be taking place all around them.
In Europe in the 1950s, Klein was integral to the establishment of a conceptual direction in art - the direction upon which much of the later Minimalist and Conceptual work of the late 1960s was subsequently built. Made very much within the context of the space age, much of Klein's aesthetic was also founded on gnostic, alchemical and Rosicrucian ideas that had fascinated him since his youth as embodied in his quasi-religious union of blue, gold and roses in Ci-gît l'espace (1960). In this context, the 'savage living material' of the saturated sponge offered itself as the perfect natural symbol of mediation between the immaterial realm of the spirit and the material world of nature. Capable of holding a variety of elements - water, air, sand and grit - within itself all at the same time, the sponge when impregnated with IKB colour was the perfect articulation of his notions of a base, elemental, material being impregnated with a higher dimensional essence. For Klein, the sponge, an ancient, organic, ocean-dwelling creature physically indicative of both the wonder and the mystery of nature, was, when impregnated with the deeply resonant ultramarine blue that he had himself patented, the perfect symbol of the ability of man's brain - which the sponge also resembles - to absorb and perceive a sense of the immaterial reality of the void. Colour is immaterial sensibility. It is a powerful but intangible element able to provoke strong emotion and sensation in the viewer. For Klein, the colour blue was preeminent, being the colour of the sky and the sea and therefore, a colour 'beyond dimensions'. In this respect it was the colour most indicative of the infinite and the void. 'I seek to put the spectator in front of the fact that colour is an individual, a character, a personality. I solicit a receptivity from the observer placed before my works, this permits him to consider everything that effectively surrounds the monochrome painting. Thus he can impregnate himself with colour and colour impregnates itself in him. Thus, perhaps, he can enter into the world of colour' (Y. Klein, quoted in S. Stitch, Yves Klein, Cologne 1994, p. 66).
Dry pigment in synthetic resin on natural sponge, metal stem, resin and plaster base
Signed and dated 'Yves Klein 1961' (on the underside)
Yves Klein , 1960s, Sculptures, Statues & Figures, France, Post War
New York, The Jewish Museum, Yves Klein, 1967, p. 63 (illustrated, unpaged).
Tokyo, Fuji Television Gallery, Yves Klein, 1979, no. 7 (illustrated in colour, unpaged).
POST-WAR & CONTEMPORARY ART
20 7/8 x 13 x 10 7/8in. (53 x 33 x 27.5cm.)
P. Wember, Yves Klein, Cologne 1969, p. 94, no. SE 181 (illustrated, p. 94).
Galleria Apollinaire, Milan.
Svensk Franska Konstgalleriet, Stockholm.
Galerie Bonnier, Geneva.
Anon. sale, Sotheby's London, 26 June 1986, lot 641.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.
VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 20% on the buyer's premium.