Yves Klein

For Hayward Gallery Exhibition Catalogue (written December 29th 1994)


To: Kate Miller/ Martin Caiger-Smith

Date: December 29th 1994

re. Yves Klein

It was through music that I first became acquainted with Yves Klein's work when I was in my teens having seen the sequence in Mondo Cane which used 6 nude models to produce blue images on canvas during a performance of his very beautiful Symphonie Monoton. (1949-1961). Various versions of this extraordinary piece exist ranging in duration from 7 to 40 minutes. In some ways the music occupies a world similar to that of Morton Feldman in the 1950's - its insistence on an absence of attack and its uniform pianissimo dynamic - and in others it presages the drones of LaMonte Young. Unfortunately Klein's first viewing of Mondo Cane in Cannes in 1962 precipitated his first heart attack. He had thought the entire film was about his work, and was horrified to find that it simply documented the "bizarre" in general. He died a month later.   

Many years later I revisited Klein and music. In 1989 I was staying in Normandy with Jacques Caumont and Jennifer Gough-Cooper (the Académie de Muséologie Évocatoire) when, along with my colleague Andrew Hugill, we decided to spend an afternoon recording a sequence of popular songs each of which evoked and celebrated individual visual artists. This was done in chronological order so that the first one was for Leonardo - Si J'étais La Joconde - and the penultimate one (in between songs for Lowry and Winston Churchill) was Volare (Nel blu dipinto di blu). This, we assumed, we could use for Yves Klein. We performed an expanded sequence of these songs in a concert at the Printemps de Bourges Festival in 1990. However, it was only on the death last August of Domenico Modugno, the composer of the original song, that we learned that he had in fact written the song while thinking of a painting by Chagall of a man, with half his face painted blue, looking out of a window.