As the story goes, ’s
love affair with the color blue began when the artist was seduced by the deep cerulean skies of the French Mediterranean. “He was obsessed by the luminosity of the blue sky in Nice,” Daniel Moquay, the manager of Klein’s archive and second husband to Klein’s widow Rotraut Klein-Moquay, told me over the phone from France. “He tried to have a blue as powerful as this.” For Klein, color—particularly the most vivid shade of blue—represented a kind of freedom, an antidote to what he saw as the restrictive limits imposed by lines.
Color enabled viewers to “bathe in a cosmic sensibility,” Klein said. He would sometimes refer to the literary critic and philosopher Gaston Bachelard, who wrote: “First there is nothing, then there is a deep nothing, then there is a blue depth.” Discovering, in collaboration with a chemical retailer, a polymer binder that could fix his blue pigment so that it didn’t lose any of its intensity on the road to becoming paint, Klein dubbed the shade International Klein Blue (IKB) and set about making objects of various forms with it: textured canvases, sculptures composed of sea sponges soaked in pigment, horizontal fields of the powdery blue substance.
Although he called his blue canvases “monochromes,” and they were indeed cast in a single color, it was the rich variations of effect these works create when you sit with them for a while that interested Klein, according to Dominique Lévy, the dealer of his estate in North America. They are an “opening to the infinite possibility,” she says. “It’s about all the light and all the color depending on how you place yourself, how you position yourself.”