Nov 052014

CaptureYves Klein via Wikipedia

This guy mystifies me, makes me think. Dead at 34 (multiple heart attacks), three years after this picture was taken in 1959, considered one of the early performance artists and a pioneer of the so-called New Realism in France, by which was meant a kind of super-realism that saw art as gesture, not representation, a daub of paint on a white board (no, that’s not right, more like instead of painting a woman you use a woman’s body to put a daub of paint on a white board). A little old hat now. You watch the video (whoa — in the second half watch the naked women and the FLAME THROWER). Naked women used as sponges and brushes by the formally attired artist, men in suits in chairs around the painting area. I am amused by his stiff earnestness as he nudges and guides the naked women into place. I am amused by the stiff old guys along the wall. I remember André Breton’s autobiographical novel Nadja, about the narrator, his wife and the neurotic, wild woman he falls in love with (neurotically — really, it’s the right word — and wildly). What is exposed in art SO OFTEN is the male assumption that women are the instruments and objects of art not artists, that men find wisdom or redemption through women (the flip side of this, of course, is the classic male fear that women ALREADY KNOW). Look at Klein’s photograph again. He is so young, so earnest, and so naive (and well-dressed despite the paint spatters). Pathos here. Not just for him, but for the women, also for the men sitting along the wall watching. Everyone so locked in his or her own (permitted) adventure, not the real adventure. Now watch the video again, look at the photograph, everyone near death, full of life, youth, enjoying the moment, even the women (dutiful, practical, earnest — interesting how aseptic, non-erotic the film is). I write this not to condemn Yves Klein. Not at all. We are so quick to condemn people for their false ideas with the same naive earnestness, the same belief in our own righteousness. The trouble with human beings is that they are all so well-intentioned (except, you know, for the psychopaths and narcissists). What is the real adventure?


  7 Responses to “Yves Klein, Naked Women, Flame Throwers, Art”

  1. I am fascinated by your comment, Doug. And the exceedingly transparent way during this time of courting the unconscious in French and German art, by way of Breton, et al. how the formality of consciousness constructs devices to part the curtain on the forge of all forms. Kein appears to be trying to part the veil of Isis dressed like a school boy with a blow torch. Paul Pines

    • Paul, The first time I read this I read “on the forge of old forms, but I think it amounts to the same idea. Can’t escape the “formality of consciousness” which is the veil, more or less.

      I keep thinking of Joyce’s “The Dead” in which Gabriel climbs over the bodies of three women, finally, his wife, to enlightenment, which, ambiguously, seems to mean turning his face toward Death. Did Joyce almost get it? Or is he right on target?

  2. Fascinating video and comments. Indeed, as you ask in your final question, Doug, and as Paul says above, there seems to be a very touching attempt to channel the wild self and cosmos within highly formalized restraints, the audience well-mannered, the fireman so ready to help, the women dainty even when writhing in paint naked … You expect the whole scene to be interrupted by wailing feather-wearing drummers, expect an orgiastic (or violent) eruption (I mean, a FLAMETHROWER?!). It’s easy to laugh, and I confess that I did laugh throughout … but Klein was of course just working with those ‘forms of consciousness’ that were available to him.

    • Sharon,

      Ah, ‘dainty’ is the word I was looking for. Yes.

      When I first watched the video and saw the flamethrower I thought MY GOD he’s really going to burn someone. As in virgin sacrifices. The whole thing looked very dangerous.

      I think it’s fine to laugh. I laughed. There is humour in the juxtaposition of two states of consciousness. But I meant to invite us to critique our own assumptions and certainties, take responsibility for own inhibiting assumptions and forms. Parting the veil (Paul’s useful phrase) starts with seeing that the veil is mostly self-constructed. And our certainties make us all a bit comical. I know you get this.

  3. You are right, Doug, about the lack of eroticism. Only when, about 3/4 through, the shorter of the 2 women looks directly at the camera while she is sideways against the wall (canvas) did I notice from her eyes, “gee, she’s quite attractive”. Her eyes and face – attractive. You are, of course, correct in labeling the process as performance art. For a while, I was expecting to see a finished painting that would blow me away. Alas, not to be – it is the performance that is the art. Thanks,

    • Satch, Interesting reaction. Interesting, as in the fact that the disappointment one feels at the absence of a work of art (finished painting) becomes part of the new work of art. Just as the use of the naked female as paint brush instead of as subject-of-painting replaces the traditional aesthetic satisfaction with an intellectual thrill.

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