An empty gallery space. Nothing more, nothing less. You’d expect to find something, something even tiny. However the space itself is the exhibit. The work called La spécialisation de la sensibilité à l’état matière première en sensibilité picturale stabilisée, is quite a mouthful for such a minimalistic piece. Better known as Le Vide (The Void) it was just a white painted, empty room, except for a large cabinet. ’Nouveau réaliste’ Yves Klein (1928-1962) presented it at the Iris Clert gallery in Paris from April 28 to May 15 1958. The opening night was in itself a memorable happening. The exterior window was painted in the famous IKB blue (International Klein Blue, an ultramarine color created by Klein) and the entrance lobby was framed with an enormous blue theatre curtain. Republican guards welcomed visitors at the door and complimentary blue cocktails were on hand. Thanks to a huge publicity drive, almost 3000 people showed up and crammed the street and the gallery space. Famous writer and thinker Albert Camus was one of the guests and wrote the words ‘avec le vide, les pleins pouvoirs’ (with the void, full powers) in the visitors’ book.
The emptying and whitewashing of the place was for Klein a manifesto of immateriality, a concept central to his thinking. During his career he sought to embrace void and space by using different mediums as painting, sculpture, or performance.
The creation of his IKB blue was part of his search for and pursuit of the ‘immaterial’. He explored it with his ‘anthropométries’ (paintings made with the bodies of women), his ‘monochromes’ or his ‘reliefs éponges’ (paintings including the use and incorporation of sponges). Klein was chiefly noted for these blue paintings, for his experimental attitude and views towards art, and for his experiments with new techniques.
His manifesto for immateriality was his attempt to ‘new painting’, to go even beyond abstraction. His work was meant to escape the eye and abandoned lines and shapes in order to surprise the spectator with an ‘atmospheric impression’ without detours. Le Vide is the objectification of this aim. Perhaps the words of Camus consolidate it, ‘with the void, full powers’.