Yves Klein

IKB 79


In Tate Modern

Yves Klein 1928–1962
Paint on canvas on plywood
Object: 1397 × 1197 × 32 mm
frame: 1600 × 1394 × 80 mm
Purchased 1972


IKB 79 was one of nearly two hundred blue monochrome paintings Yves Klein made during his short life. He began making monochromes in 1947, considering them to be a way of rejecting the idea of representation in painting and therefore of attaining creative freedom. Although it is difficult to date many of these works precisely, the early ones have an uneven surface, whereas later ones, such as the present work, are finer and more uniform in texture. Klein did not give titles to these works but after his death in 1962, his widow Rotraut Klein-Moquay numbered all the known blue monochromes IKB 1 to IKB 194, a sequence which did not reflect their chronological order. Since then further examples have been identified and these have also been given IKB numbers. In 1974 Rotraut Klein-Moquay wrote to Tate saying that she was fairly certain that IKB 79 was one of about four monochrome paintings Klein made when they were together at Gelsenkirchen, West Germany in 1959.

The letters IKB stand for International Klein Blue, a distinctive ultramarine which Klein registered as a trademark colour in 1957. He considered that this colour had a quality close to pure space and he associated it with immaterial values beyond what can be seen or touched. The announcement card for his one-man exhibition at the Galleria Apollinaire, Milan in 1957 described IKB as 'a Blue in itself, disengaged from all functional justification' (quoted in Stich, p.81). By this time Klein had arrived at a means of painting in which the incandescence of IKB could be maximised. First he stretched his canvas or cotton scrim over a wooden backing, which had been treated with a milk protein called casein. This assisted the adherence of the paint when it was applied with a roller. Then he applied an industrial blue paint, similar to gouache, which he mixed with a highly volatile fixative. When the paint dried the pigment appeared to hover over the surface of the canvas creating a rich velvety texture and an unusual appearance of depth.

Many of Klein's artistic activities, such as selling zones of 'immaterial' space for the price of gold, trod a fine line between shamanism and commercialism. Like other artists of the Nouveau Réaliste movement in France, or the Italian artist Piero Manzoni (1933-1963), Klein's practice was strongly influenced by the originality, irreverence and wit of the French artist Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968). The production of monochrome paintings was probably conceived by Klein as both a spiritual and a marketable activity. At his 1957 exhibition in Milan, he displayed a series of eleven ostensibly identical blue monochromes, each with a different price which he claimed reflected its unique spirit. As he explained: 'Each blue world of each painting, although the same blue and treated in the same way, presented a completely different essence and atmosphere. None resembled any other - no more than pictoral moments resemble each other - although all were of the same superior and subtle nature (marked by the immaterial) … The most sensational observation was from the "buyers". They chose among the eleven exhibited paintings, each in their own way, and each paid the requested price. The prices were all different, of course.' (quoted in Stich, pp.86-7.)

Further reading:

Yves Klein, 1928-1962: Selected Writings, Tate Gallery, London 1974
Yves Klein 1928-1962: A Retrospective, exhibition catalogue, Institute for the Arts, Rice University, Houston 1982
Sandra Stich, Yves Klein, exhibition catalogue, Hayward Gallery, London 1995

Sophie Howarth
April 2000

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Display caption

In 1947, Klein began making monochrome paintings, which he associated with freedom from ideas of representation or personal expression. A decade later, he developed his trademark, patented colour, International Klein Blue (IKB). This colour, he believed, had a quality close to pure space, and he associated it with immaterial values beyond what can be seen or touched. He described it as ‘a Blue in itself, disengaged from all functional justification’. Klein made around 200 monochrome paintings using IKB. He did not give titles to these works but, after his death, his widow assigned a number to each one.

Gallery label, November 2005

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Catalogue entry

Yves Klein 1928-1962

T01513 IKB 79 1959

The back bears the artist's insignia, an eight-sided star, and is inscribed (not by him) 'IKB 79'
Paint on cotton scrim over plywood backing, 55 x 47 x 1 1/4 (139.7 x 119.7 x 3)
Purchased from the Galleria Internazionale and Situation (Grant-in-Aid) 1972
Prov: With Michel Couturier, Paris; through Galleria Toselli, Milan; with Galleria Notizie, Turin; with Galleria Internazionale, Milan, and Situation, London (joint owners)
Exh: Yves Klein, Galleria Blu, Milan, November 1969 (9)
Lit: Paul Wember, Yves Klein (Cologne 1969), p.73
Repr: Terry Measham, The Moderns 1945-1975 (Oxford 1976), pl.69 in colour

Wember lists a total of 194 blue monochrome paintings of widely varying sizes. They were numbered after the artist's death by his widow Rotraut Klein-Moquay, not in chronological order, 'IKB 1-194', the letters IKB standing for International Klein Blue, a reference to the very distinctive ultramarine blue which Klein employed. Klein made his first monochrome painting in 1949 and began his so-called 'blue period' in 1957; he then continued to make blue monochrome paintings on and off right up to his death in June 1962. It is difficult to date most of them precisely, though the early pictures tend to have a distinctly uneven wave-like surface, whereas the later works (such as this one) are finer and more uniform in texture.

Mme Klein-Moquay said on 6 May 1974, after re-examining the Tate's picture, that she was fairly certain it was one of about four in the same style which Klein made at Gelsenkirchen in 1959. She was with him at the time.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.389-90, reproduced p.389


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