The Timeless Imagination of Yves Klein: Uncertainty and the Immateriality

2022.10.1(Sat.) - 2023.3.5(Sun.)



2022.10.1(Sat.) - 2023.3.5(Sun.)
10:00-18:00(until 20:000 on Fridays and Saturdays)*The exhibition will be closed at 19:00 on February 24 (Fri.) and 25 (Sat.) due to osmosis, a program related to this exhibition. Please be forewarned in advance.


21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa
Galleries 5 to 12, 14 and Courtyard 2


Mondays (except October 10, 31, January 2), October 11, November 1, December 29 - January 1, 4,10.

For More Information:

21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa
Phone: +81-76-220-2800

Yves Klein is known as the artist of the blue, well known for his deep and vivid renderings of this color that seem to pull the viewer into it: International Klein Blue (IKB). He emerged from the tabula rasa [blank slate] of the devastated postwar period as an artist in search of a new humanity like some sort of comet. When Klein was 20 years old, he spent time on the beach in Nice with the poet Claude Pascal and the sculptor Arman, and the three of them came up with the idea of “dividing the world.” Klein wanted the blue sky, and the episode where he was said to have claimed the sky and its infinite expanse as a work of art by signing his name across it demonstrates his interest in immateriality, the freedom of the spirit, leaping into space, and a cosmic imagination.
Through his actions and performances, Klein used colors such as blue, which he considered to be the most immaterial and spiritual, fire, water, and air, so that art could be experienced through sensibility, rather than being perceived just as a material object. As a young man, Klein came to Japan and earned a black belt in judo, and is known for his exploration of the relationship between the spirit and the body.
During the same period, the Italian Spatialism movement, Zero from Germany, and Gutai in Japan gained momentum with their experimental attempts at art that rose from the ruins, reexamining the relationship between the human body, material, and space from scratch. This exhibition, centered on Yves Klein while also including artists from these movements that were active around the same period as well as contemporary artists, will highlight the theme of immateriality that is common to their art.
Amid the current confusion caused by a myriad of unseen things, such as climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the information environment of the internet, we find ourselves in a state of uncertainty where the substance of things remains opaque to us. As such, Klein’s explorations of a sensibility and spirituality produced by immateriality inspires the creation of contemporary artists, including those of the post-internet generation. This exhibition promises to give us a sense of joy and the strength to feel and imagine that which is not here and now, and to overcome the uncertain present.

Related Projects


  • Adults: ¥1,400 (¥1,100)
    Students: ¥1,000 (¥800)
    18 and under: ¥500 (¥400)
    65 and over: ¥1,100

    *Fees in parentheses are for groups of 20 people or more and web tickets.

    *Tickets also include admission (same day only) to “Collection Exhibition 1: Vessels” (October 1 - 16) and "Collection Exhibition 2: See Lane” (November 3 - March 5).

    Purchasing reserved timed-entry tickets:
    Time slots:
    [1] 10:00~11:00 [2] 11:00~12:00
    [3] 12:00~13:00 [4] 13:00~14:00
    [5] 14:00~15:00 [6] 15:00~16:00
    [7] 16:00~17:00 [8] 17:00~18:00
    [9] 18:00~19:00 [10] 19:00~20:00
    ※ [9][10] Fridays and Saturdays only
    For sale: From 10:00 on the 1st of the previous month

    Book tickets here

    ・The number of reserved tickets sold for each time slot is limited (availability on a first come, first served basis).
    ・Please present the two-dimensional code screen or printout of the purchased page at the entrance of the exhibition venue.
    ・Please be aware that there may be an queue at the start of each time slot.

Artist profile

  • Portrait of Yves Klein made on the occasion of the shooting of Peter Morley
    "The Heartbeat of France" February 1961
    Charles Wilp's studio, Düsseldorf, Allemagne
    © The Estate of Yves Klein c/o ADAGP, Paris
    Photo © : Charles Wilp / BPK, Berlin

    Yves Klein (1928-1962)

    In just over 34 years of life, this French artist created numerous masterpieces that have won global acclaim. A member of the Nouveau Réalisme [New Realism] group, Klein sought to dematerialize art through bold experiments with new techniques and art. He is especially known for the blue pigment, International Klein Blue (IKB), which he developed himself.
    Klein began painting at the age of 19 when he discovered the immaterial world in the sky and formulated his first monochrome theory. He took up judo, stayed in Japan from 1952-53 and earned a black belt at the Kodokan Institute in Tokyo, and later taught judo in Paris. During this stay in Japan, he became deeply acquainted with the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, which influenced him later in life to create his Anthropometry series, in which nude models were painted over with blue paint at his direction, and their bodies were pressed against the canvas.
    In 1958, he created a controversy with his Le Vide [The Void] exhibition, in which nothing was exhibited in the gallery. He continued to experiment with the idea of a “Zone of Immaterial Pictorial Sensibility,” creating many works incorporating natural elements such as fire, gold leaf, and sponges, as well as monochrome works in pink, blue, and gold. Klein died of a heart attack in Paris at the age of 34.

Contemporary Artists

  • Photo: David Bebber 2021

    Haroon Mirza

    Born in London, England in 1977. Lives and works in London. Internationally acclaimed for his installations that make use of sound, light, and electric currents. His methods range from sculpture and performance to immersive installations. Through his work, Mirza prompts us to reconsider the perceptual distinctions between noise, sound, and music. Recent projects include the Liverpool Biennial (2021) and Haroon Mirza (2020, Center for Contemporary Art Kitakyushu, Fukuoka, Japan).

  • Photo: Giannis Vastardis


    Born in 1957 in Daegu, Korea. Currently resides in Seoul, New York, and Paris. Internationally acclaimed conceptual multimedia artist. Kim’s works, created through a combination of site-specific installations, address questions related to aesthetics, culture, politics, and the environment, while also investigating the human condition.
    Recent projects include a stained glass work for the Metz Cathedral in Metz, France (2022) and a permanent installation at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW) in Sydney, Australia. She has also participated in a number of international biennials and triennials, including Documenta 14 in Kassel, the Venice Biennale, and the São Paulo Biennial.

  • Photo: Naoki Takehisa

    Rintaro Fuse

    Born in Tokyo in 1994, Fuse has been practicing a “new loneliness” that has been made possible in urban settings since the launch of the iPhone, by producing paintings and video works, writing criticism and poetry, and organizing exhibitions. Major solo exhibitions include Dead Corpus (2022, PARCO MUSEUM TOKYO) and All is the first love song (2021, The 5th Floor, Tokyo). Exhibitions curated include Planet Samsa (2022, former site of Odaka Bookbinding Company, Tokyo) and ITCCC - Isolated Type Close Contact Chamber (2020, online). He has also contributed numerous articles to Bijutsu Techo, Bungakukai, Gendai Shi Techo, Eureka, and other magazines.

  • Photo: Dario Lagana,
    Courtesy of Studio Tomás Saraceno.

    Tomás Saraceno

    Born in Argentina in 1973. Lives and works in Berlin. Saraceno’s work, which revolves around the dialogue between life forms and how life is formed, rethinks the dominant threads of knowledge in the patriarchal age of the capitalocene. Recent projects include TOMÁS SARACENO: PARTICULAR MATTER(S) (2022, The Shed, New York) and ON AIR (2018, Palais de Tokyo, Paris), as well as a number of international biennials and triennials, including the Venice Biennale. His diverse activities also include lectures at TED and artistic interventions at the Conference of Parties (COP) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Main works in the exhibition

  • Yves Klein, Relief Portrait of Claude Pascal, (PR3), 1962 Dry blue pigment in synthetic resin on bronze,
    mounted on primed and gold-leafed board,
    178×94×33 cm,
    The Hakone Open-Air Museum

    Immaterial Gold/ Gallery 7

    Yves Klein saw unique spirituality and symbolism in gold, as both a color and a material. Throughout his life he continued to search for inseparable links between the invisible, immaterial realm and gold, which is both highly mutable and the most stable substance on earth.
    In his monochromatic paintings, he primarily used blue, rose (pink), and gold as colors representing aspects of the immaterial. Influenced by alchemy, Klein saw these three colors as the three primary colors that make up the universe: gold symbolizing “spirit,” blue “space,” and pink “life.” His first encounter with gold as a material came in 1949 when he was working at Savage’s, a frame shop in London where he learned how to handle raw pigment and gold leaf, experiences that later led to his creation of monochromatic paintings.
    His monochromes are also said to have been inspired by Japanese gold-leaf folding screens, which he saw during his stay in Japan. In this gallery, we explore the sources of Klein’s creative breakthroughs by comparing gold-leaf folding screens produced in Kanazawa, which holds 99% of the domestic market share for gold leaf in Japan, with Klein’s gold monochromes. He used gold (gold leaf) not only in his paintings but also in many other works and performances right up until his untimely death at the age of 34. In 1962, the year of his death, he staged ritualistic performances in which he exchanged a certain weight of gold for “immaterial zones,” shares of empty space, and produced gold-colored reliefs cast from the bodies of fellow Nouveau Réalisme-affiliated artists as embodiments of life in the cosmos.

  • Yves Klein, Untitled Anthropometry, (ANT66), 1960 Water medium on paper on canvas,
    157×311cm, Iwaki City Art Museum

    Body and Action/ Gallery 8

    Faced with the tabula rasa [blank slate] of the devastated postwar period, many artists sought new modes of expression through the only remaining certainties: their own bodies and actions. Klein, who explored the integration of body and spirit through judo, was one such artist. In his famous Anthropometry series, he applied his patented “International Klein Blue (IKB)” to female models and made impressions of their bodies in motion directly on paper, in an endeavor to capture and freeze vestiges of invisible cosmic phenomena. Apparently, his interest in imprints of the human body was deepened during his stay in Japan, when he learned of gyotaku [rubbings made from fish] and the Human Shadow Stone (also known as the “Human Shadow of Death,” silhouettes etched by the radiant heat of the atomic bomb) in Hiroshima. Through acquaintances in the art world, he became interested in the activities of the Gutai Art Association, active at this time in the Kansai region, and owned copies of the group’s in-house publication Gutai. The action paintings of Kazuo Shiraga and others, and the outdoor performances of Gutai members, have much in common with Klein in their formation of relationships among body, material, and space through action.
    Leap into the Void (1960), the iconic photograph capturing a moment in which he appears to be taking flight from the second-story window of a house in the Paris suburbs, represents Klein’s dream of becoming one with the universe and soaring into space. To convince a large number of people that he could actually fly, he commemorated the event by distributing fake newspapers at newsstands in Paris, causing quite a sensation. With Leap into the Void, through a physical act of the body, he took on the challenge of merging with the immaterial zone of absolute freedom of the spirit.

  • Yves Klein, Untitled Blue Sponge Relief, (RE42) Natural sponges and pebbles,
    dry pigment and synthetic resin on panel, 93.5×73.5 cm, Shiga Museum of Art

    Music & Performance/ Gallery 9

    In the Rosicrucian philosophical system that influenced Klein, music is spirit and the expression of life itself. Klein conceived his monotone symphony in tandem with his interest in monochromatic painting. The symphony is composed of a first movement in which a single chord is sustained and a second movement of equal duration that is completely silent, pointing to the inseparable relationship between Klein’s monochromatic painting and the void through the musical form of a single chord and silence. Klein was also commissioned to create a mural for a new opera house in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. The sponge reliefs in the large mural he produced can be called an expression of the relationship between sound and space.
    On March 9, 1960, he conducted an orchestral performance of the the Monotone ー Silence Symphony at a public staging of the production of Anthropometry. Dressed in a tuxedo and white tie, Klein appeared in front of an audience of about 100 people in formal attire. Conducting the orchestra and directing the models’ performance, he created works without soiling his own fingertips, and in doing so forged a relationship between the body (life) and the void. These and many other performances, such as Aerostatic Sculpture in which 1,001 blue balloons were released into the sky, were all ritualistic in nature and had the underlying intention of engaging with the relationship between human life and void and sublimating it to a higher dimension of reality. The Gutai group’s International Sky Festival (1960), which turned the sky into a gallery by floating balloons in the air, can be said to deal with similar concepts of “levitation” and “the sky as an exhibition space.”

  • Yves Klein, Untitled Fire Painting, (F62), 1962 Burnt cardboard mounted on panel, 41×33 cm Private collection
    © The Estate of Yves Klein c/o ADAGP, Paris

    Fire/ Gallery 10

    Klein also used fire as a material and a means of production in many of his works. A classic example is Fire Paintings, in which the surface of a painting was set on fire with a gas burner and then immediately extinguished with water. While many artists of his time also had an interest in fire, Klein is considered one of the first to use it in a pictorial context. These works were also precursors to the Italian Arte Povera (“impoverished art”) movement, which was strongly influenced by artists such as Alberto Burri, who scorched plastic with a burner, and Lucio Fontana, a close friend of Klein’s.
    Klein also focused on fire in his conception of Air Architecture, on which he collaborated with the architect Werner Ruhnau. The only realization of their project for an Air Architecture was Wall of Fire, staged in the courtyard of the Museum Haus Lange for Klein’s retrospective exhibition in 1961. Fire is also an important element and source of life in alchemy and the teachings of the Rosicrucian Order, and Klein’s work with fire can be seen as part of his constant endeavors to leave tangible traces of immaterial phenomena.

  • Lucio Fontana, Spatial Concept, Expectations, 1962
    Oil on canvas, 81×65 cm
    Fukuoka Art Museum
    © SIAE, Rome & JASPER, Tokyo, 2022 G2951

    Color and Space/ Gallery 11

    Klein did not interpret color conceptually, but viewed it as sensorial and emotional space. In causing pigments on monochromatic surfaces to seep into space and transcend the surfaces of the works, his goal was for each color to become “presence,” “organic life,” and “active force.”. Believing that color, not line, was central to painting, Klein explored the possibilities of color throughout his life. According to him, color, unlike line, is essential to humanity and to inner life, and is innately free because it dissolves immediately into space.
    Prior to Klein, the relationship between space and color was explored in Lucio Fontana’s Spatial Concept series, in which he made incisions in monochromatic canvases. Also, at the 1956 Outdoor Gutai Art Exhibition, Gutai member Sadamasa Motonaga exhibited Work (Water), in which water dyed various colors was suspended in plastic tubes. Klein considered color to be the richest and most fluid of all cosmic sensibility, and in this gallery, the vibrant colors of Klein’s contemporaries, Motonaga and Fontana, come together, resonating with Klein’s works and merging into a single organic presence.

  • Fujiko Shiraga, Untitled, 1955 Japanese paper etc. 107.5×77 cm
    Private Collection

    The White and The Void/ Gallery 14

    In 1958, Klein held the exhibition commonly known as The Void (official title: The Specialization of Sensibility in the Raw Material State into Stabilized Pictorial Sensibility). He painted the exterior walls of the gallery entirely blue, removed all the indoor furniture, and painted the interior white over a period of 48 hours. Viewers were astonished by this “empty” exhibition, but for Klein the room was not empty, rather it was a dematerialized space replete with the pictorial sensation of the blue outside the room. The novelist Albert Camus, who visited the exhibition, wrote in the guestbook: “With the void, full powers.”
    As a color, white represents the void, the fullness of nothingness, and is pregnant with chance, imagination, and the unconscious, which cannot be logically explained. Artists who were Klein’s contemporaries, such as Günther Uecker, Piero Manzoni, and Enrico Castellani, associated with the group ZERO and with “New Tendecies” in European art, were noted for exploring diverse materials in rapid succession, as if inspired by Klein, and using them in monochromatic works with white as the key color. “The void” was also presented in manifold forms by Japanese artists including Yayoi Kusama, who painted her hallucinatory experiences of infinity nets, and Fujiko Shiraga, a member of Zero Society (Zero-kai, one of Gutai’s predecessors, with an approach that involved eliminating composition), who manifested delicate spaces created by white through wrinkles and tears in paper.

  • [Reference Image]
    Yves Klein, Pigment pur bleu, 1957 original / 2021 reproduction at Opera Gallery Geneva
    Pure blue pigment, dimension variable
    © The Estate of Yves Klein c/o ADAGP, Paris

    Blue Pigment/ Gallery 5

    When working at the frame shop Savage’s in London, the young Klein was fascinated not only by gold leaf but also by the beauty of pure, unprocessed pigments. He saw the autonomous life force of color in powdered pigment, as opposed to oil paint which is a mixture of pigment and oil, and arrived at a technique of monochromatic painting in which raw pigments were applied to supports without adulteration. While he presented his monochromes as paintings to hang on walls, as this was easy for viewers to accept, Klein himself believed that the best way to keep powdered pigments in their most liberated state was to lay paintings flat on the ground. This would cause the pigments to settle toward the ground in their pure form due to invisible gravitational pull. In Blue Rain, he expressed the temporal and spatial persistence of continually falling rain by applying blue pigment not to a painting but to 12 suspended rods. Klein believed that while other colors had dimensions, blue was an abstract, non-dimensional or “trans-dimensional” color. He was dedicated to pursuing the infinite possibilities of pigment itself, and to exploring color’s mysteries.

  • Master Jô.in Oda and Yves Klein
    performing the Itsutsu-no-kata (Kata of the five principles), dojo of Master Oda, Tokyo, 1953
    Tokyo, Japon, Paris, France
    Photo © : All rights reserved

    Yves Klein and Japan/ Outside of Gallery 7 and 8

    Klein, who began taking judo classes at a police academy in Nice, was deeply intrigued by the techniques of this martial art, exemplified by the saying “ju yoku go o seisu” [softness subdues hardness]. From September 1952 to January 1954, he studied judo in Japan. At the time, fourth-degree black belts in judo were extremely rare in Europe, but Klein received his fourth-degree certification from the Kodokan Judo Institute with extraordinary speed about 15 months after he began training in Japan. It is thought that from his training in judo throws and falling techniques, he learned the physical sensation of levitation that would later lead to Leap into the Void, and from martial-arts etiquette he discovered the importance of ritualistic elements in performance. In addition to judo, various “forms” Klein encountered during his time in Japan influenced his subsequent creative breakthroughs, as in the gyotaku [rubbings made from fish] and sumo wrestlers’ handprints which informed his Anthropometry series, and Japanese lacquerware, which he saw as an example of “monochromes.” Klein associated with many people in the art world, including the art critics Takachiyo Uemura and Yoshiaki Tono, and an exhibition of Klein’s parents’ works was held at the Bridgestone Museum of Art in Tokyo. The art critic Shinichi Segi, a close friend, described Klein’s monochromes as “in a constant state of flux”and “simultaneously evoking contradictory sensations in the viewer.” In 1962 Klein was scheduled to visit Japan with his family for a solo exhibition, but he died suddenly of a heart attack and never set foot on Japanese soil again.

Exhibition Catalog

  • Exhibition catalog will be available for pre-order and sale at the Museum Shop.
    Scheduled to go on sale in late November 2022.
    Reservations: Accepted at the cashier counter at the Museum Shop
    Texts: Emma Lavigne (Co-curator of the exhibition, CEO, Pinault Collection), Yuko Hasegawa (Director, 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa) and others
    Size: A4 variation, Pages: TBD, Price: TBD, Published by: Bijutsu Shuppan-Sha Co., Ltd.



Organized by:

21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa (Kanazawa Art Promotion and Development Foundation)

Special Support:
Veuve Clicquot


In special cooperation with:

Yves Klein Archives

In Cooperation with:

Japan Airlines

Sponsored by:
Embassy of France / Institut français du Japon