On its website, Blenheim Palace highlights that this exhibition (which features over fifty works) is set to be the “most comprehensive exhibition of Yves Klein in the UK to date”. As the Guardian critic Adrian Serle points out, it probably isn’t (i.e. the Tate Liverpool exhibition which closed a little over a year ago included series of works, such as the Fire Paintings and Anthropometry, which only have one meagre representative in this exhibition and displayed the artist’s output in a more comprehensive way).
That being said, we don’t share his disparaging view – Serle lamented a certain emptiness at the heart of this show but the worst we can detect is (deliberate?) repetitiveness: Klein’s sculptural production is over displayed, shadowing other aspects of his production in this show, and the choice of displaying twelve Blue Venus sculptures in the Saloon is underwhelming at best. As well as this, the artist’s trademark International Klein Blue (IKB) dominates the scene as almost everything on display (except works on the South Corridor and West Side of the Great Hall) has been either painted or immersed in that colour, whose inspiration was a 1957 trip to Italy where Klein saw the ultramarine (lapis) skies of Giotto.
The way some works are displayed is also questionable: the early coloured monochromes not always dialogue with their surroundings (mainly as some end up being almost hidden from view or in some arbitrary positions), but in general we found that the existing collection worked well with the Klein ‘additions’: the China Ante room was as literal as stunning, we really liked how the thickly painted Klein plates (almost reminiscent of surfaces of planets in all their materiality, a theme recurring in his Sponge Sculptures, displayed in the second State Room), dialogued with the Sèvres and Meissen crockery owned by the 12th Duke of Marlborough.
Many critics lament the scarce accessibility of the works, at best encased on plinths and at worst placed on antique furniture a few meters away from the viewers, barred from entering the scene further by chunky ropes. This is true for the art historians, who love to have a close-up look and feel violated by barriers, but is it valid for the ‘common visitor’? We find that this being at the edge is quite reminiscent of Klein’s practice, documented well in black and white photos showing the act of making his Anthropometry paintings, where smartly dressed men, bejewelled ladies and elegant musicians sat at the very edge of his canvases, spectators of an active show they were never invited to partake.
As Searle cries: “this is an exhibition with no catalogue, no scholarship, no real purpose except to decorate the space” – all true, but it’s a joy to see these works, once in a while, outside the bland white walls of museums.
The work of Yves Klein can be seen at Blenheim Palace 7th October 2018. For more information visit: www.blenheimpalace.com