Yves Klein Claude Parent The Memorial, an Architectural Project
I The Breath of Creation Rotraut Klein-Moquay
Body and spirit: the metaphysics of an encounter Audrey Jeanroy
Dialogue with Claude Parent by Philippe Ungar
Pneumatic Rocket, 1959
The Air Architecture drawings, 1959-1961
The “Fontaines de Varsovie”, Palais de Chaillot, Paris, 1961-1962
Memorial, Saint-Paul de Vence, 1964-1965
Yves Klein’s biography
Claude Parent’s biography
The Breath of Creation Rotraut Klein-Moquay Body and spirit: the metaphysics of an encounter Audrey Jeanroy Dialogue with Claude Parent by Philippe Ungar
Shortly after Yves’ death, his mother Marie Raymond and I asked Claude Parent to come up with an architectural design for a small plot of land above Saint-Paul de Vence. I knew that Claude was the only person capable of fully translating Yves’ ideas, his sun-like power, his timeless sensitivity. The point was to experience immaterial space, to conjure up the void, the cosmos, and to pay tribute to Yves the monochrome. Claude was immediately able to find the pure volume and open planes that opened onto a veritable initiatory sequence, suffused with mystery. Time seems to be suspended there. Imagination is sole ruler. When I imagined this place, I could feel all Yves’ creative power, his infinite freedom. I saw the softness of concrete, the sensuality of the lines, the lines of the shadows between the cylinders and the infinity of the sky. Fifty years later, our desire to see this unique project realised is just as intense. Just as magisterial and luminous as yesterday, we think it is essential to build this Memorial in order to express, as Claude puts it, “the certitude that Yves Klein will live on, rooted deep as he is in the hearts of his friends.” Today, more than ever we want to offer this dwelling in memory of Yves. “Leave Earth and enter the cosmic void, with no return.” (Yves Klein) This architectural project is also an opportunity to celebrate the encounter between Yves and Claude, two intense, pioneering sensibilities who were capable of going far beyond simple technical collaboration. The rationalist architect and visionary recognised the artist as his guide in an intense, metaphysical universe. Yves responded to Claude as a sensitive creator who would accompany him in his projects with the same desire to embrace every field of creation.
Rotraut Klein-Moquay, widow of Yves Klein
The Breath of Creation
Yves Klein and Rotraut in their apartment at 14 rue Campagne-PremiĂ¨re, Paris, 1961
The Breath of Creation
“The freer the spirit, the more one seeks to let it run free, even as far as folly, the more architecture must exist, the more it must reveal itself in its fixity.”1 Claude Parent This aphorism by Claude Parent sums up a career spent defending the architect’s right to think beyond the limits set by his profession. It reveals the determination of a creator, and rebel among rebels, to translate his aspirations into the reality of matter. Famous today for his research into the “oblique function,” Claude Parent2 (born 1923) has never ceased to pay tribute to Yves Klein for his influence on his career. As he told Hans-Ulrich Obrist in June 2002: “With Klein, there was no discussion… I didn’t argue with his convictions, his ideas… I swallowed them. He showed me things and I just said, ‘Yes, it’s true.’”3 This book is an opportunity to cast an eye over this collaboration between the painter of the immaterial and the architect of raw concrete, who developed projects, which, while utopian, had a lasting impact on the history of contemporary creation.
Ideas in search of an architect Two years before his first conversation with Claude Parent, Yves Klein, who had already made ultramarine blue his sole means of expression, had several encounters at Galerie Iris Clert (Paris, 1957), which would be decisive for his artistic development. For one thing, they would lead him to take part in the construction of the Musiktheater4 in Gelsenkirchen (Germany). While involved in this project he found himself working with an international, multidisciplinary team of artists comprising Norbert Kricke, Paul Dierkes and Robert Adams.5 Klein, who had already had the opportunity to work on a study for the architectural integration of art in 1955–56 with his companion, Bernadette Allain,6 now received a commission on a major scale, comprising four sponge reliefs and two ultramarine monochromes, most of them to be installed on the foyer walls. On the work site, several experiences led him from dematerialisation to immateriality.7 Not long afterwards, Klein commented on this way of working: “This is how, through all my research towards an art directed towards immaterialisation, Walter Ruhnau and I came together around Air Architecture. He, who was troubled, hindered by the last obstacle that even a Mies van der Rohe hadn’t been able to overcome: the roof, the screen that separates us from the sky, from the blue sky. And me, hindered by the screen constituted by the tangible blue on the canvas, which deprives man of a constant vision of the horizon.” 8
Yves Klein on-site at the Gelsenkirchen opera house, 1959
Back in Paris, on 14 April 1959 Klein went on his own to the Institut National de la Propriété Industrielle to deposit a Soleau envelope9 to protect the principle of Air Architecture. A few weeks later, he stood before a packed auditorium at the Sorbonne to present his dreams of immateriality and their transposition into architecture, accompanying a presentation of the model for the opera house at Gelsenkirchen.10 Claude Parent was in the audience that day. Amidst the laughter and applause, he listened attentively to this talk, which must certainly have resonated with his own ideas as an architect. He had come to hear the artist who had first entered his office only a few days before.11 It was a relationship between two artists in whom the perpetually warring mind and body clashed, but in order to better understand each other. It was also the convergence of two ambitions. For Klein, who wanted to pursue the path of utopia with an eye to its possible adaptation, it meant being intimately involved with the office of an architect who had already collaborated with artists and knew how important
Body and spirit: the metaphysics of an encounter
drawings could be for winning over a potential client. For Parent, it meant recognition of the direction taken by his office, outside the networks in which he was used to working. It was also an adventure which, even if it did not lead to anything, could not fail to provide stimulating new perspectives. Parent summed up their conversation thus:
simplistic images, Parent did not keep from reflecting on the very concrete problems raised by this kind of architecture, such as the free circulation of the individual with his environment and its consequence, namely, the abolition of architecture as unmoveable obstacle. He put his qualities as both architect and draughtsman at the service of the painter, as he had done for others before him. Parent was thirty-six when he started frequenting Klein. An architect without a diploma, he had the strong will of the self-made man and the classical culture of a former intern of the Monuments Historiques and former student — albeit a rebellious one — of the Beaux-Arts schools of Toulouse (1942–43) and Paris (1948–49).14 Although, as a young man, he had ambitions to enter the École Polytechnique (his father, a man with a passion for aviation, had trained as an engineer at the Arts et Métiers school), he never managed to master mathematics and physics. But he was, already, good at drawing. His brother Michel, later to become an Inspecteur Général at Les Monuments Historiques, suggested that he might become an architect and was soon encouraging the young man to read Le Corbusier’s Vers une architecture (Towards A New Architecture, 1923). Whether for or against, he was now hooked on modernity. It failed him, however, when, as a young student at the Beaux-Arts in Paris, he found himself at odds with the dogmatic teaching. At the time, he made a living from fashion sketches and small illustrations for advertising campaigns and catalogues.
Water and Fire Jets, ca. 1959 Ink on paper, 33 � 31 cm Yves Klein with the collaboration of Claude Parent
“I know there was a falling-out [after Gelsenkirchen]. Maybe Klein was not properly respected. He probably suffered at the time, I don’t know. But in any case he lost an architect. He needed an architect and so he came to see me, he showed me some drawings — you could never have published them, in fact, they were horrible, these incredible gouaches. So we worked together on the encounter of water and fire.”12 Anxious about the quality and accuracy of the representations of Air Architecture, Klein asked Parent to create a new visual identity for the project. Like the Soleau envelope, these drawings are a rereading of a project initiated several months earlier. He wanted almost advertisement-like supports that would above all promote attract and allure — explanation came second.13 Although this meant dealing with
1 Claude Parent, Claude Parent architecte, Paris: Éditions Robert Laffont, 1975, p. 364. 2 Aiming to escape from the conventional patterns of horizontal and vertical urban development, Parent and Paul Virilio (born 1932) championed the “oblique function” as the only possible way of reinventing the relation between habitat and circulation. In nine issues of the journal also titled La fonction oblique (1966) and five projects (two of which were built), they put the ramp and the bodily dynamic that it implied at the centre of their explorations.
4 The project was twofold in that it comprised an opera auditorium of one thousand five hundred places and, on the other side of a central foyer, a theatre seating four hundred and fifty. By convention, the word “opera house” is used in the text here, but the German term more broadly designates a place open to the arts of the stage, both theatre and music. 5 Jean Tinguely (1925-1991) joined the team some time later, initially as Klein’s translator (he did not speak German), and then as an active artist.
In the middle of 1951 he made a decisive encounter with André Bloc, founder and publisher of the journal L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui.15 Along with Ionel Schein (1927–2004), a Romanian fellow student he had met in classes,16 Parent decided to send a letter to the engineer and sculptor who directed France’s most revered architecture journal. This unusual step impressed Bloc sufficiently for him to invite the two young men to attend the general assembly of the association he had created in parallel to the journal, to be held on 17 October 1951. This association went by the name of Groupe Espace17 and its ambition was to “prepare the conditions for effective collaboration between architects, painters, sculptors and visual artists, and to organise, by plastic means, the harmonious development of human activities.”18 The aim was as much to promote the integration of the arts into architecture — which meant introducing colour and bringing sculpture into relation with modern urban design — as to reform the modes of collaboration between artists and architects. In following this line, the association’s steering
6 This was a project (not built) for a cafeteria in aluminium and mirror glass with decorative monochrome surfaces. 7 Cf. Annette Kahn, Yves Klein, le maître du bleu, Paris: Stock, 2000, p. 241. 8 Yves Klein, “Conférence à la Sorbonne” (Sorbonne Lecture) (3 June 1959), published in Yves Klein, Le dépassement de la problématique de l’art et autres écrits, Paris: École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, 2003, p. 149.
9 On this subject, see for example the article by Didier Semin, “Yves Klein, la propriété intellectuelle en question,” in the exhibition catalogue Yves Klein: Corps, couleur, immatériel, Paris: Centre Pompidou, 2006, pp. 277-279. 10 On this occasion several events were organised at the Sorbonne and at Galerie Iris Clert at the initiative of the German Embassy in Paris.
3 Hans Ulrich Obrist, Claude Parent, Paris: Manuella: 2012, p. 28.
Body and spirit: the metaphysics of an encounter
1 Yves Klein, Water and Fire Fountains, ca. 1959 Watercolour, gouache and ink on paper mounted on canvas, 52.5 ďż˝ 75 cm 2 Water Fountains and Fire Roof, ca. 1959 Watercolour and ink on paper mounted on canvas, 36 ďż˝ 43.5 cm Yves Klein with the collaboration of Claude Parent Executed by Sargologo at the office of Claude Parent
3 Yves’s Fire Fountains. For a Sunday twilight, ca. 1960 Reproduced in Sunday November 27 1960 – The newspaper for a single day, 1960 4 Yves Klein, Sunday November 27 1960 – The newspaper for a single day, 1960 Typographic print in black, both sides, double sheet, 55.5 � 38 cm
committee recruited a number of big names from art and architecture, including Fernand Léger, Félix Del Marle, Sonia Delaunay, Bernard Zehrfuss, Robert le Ricolais and Paul Nelson. From an aesthetic viewpoint, Bloc had chosen to champion geometrical abstraction, with Theo van Doesburg as its tutelary figure. Moving from observer to contributor status, Parent assimilated these ideas and applied them in several of his early projects (Perdrizet house, Champigny-sur-Marne, 1955–57; studio-caretaker’s house Meudon, 1955–56; interior of the Café du Rond-Point des Champs-Élysées, Paris, 1955–57). The spirit of this association was much the same as what Klein and Diekers had experienced at the Gelsenskirchen opera house where, in addition to producing their own work, they had a say in choosing the materials and in the chromatic composition of the building itself. This was indeed one of the key aspects of this construction, as emphasised in the double issue of L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui for September-October-November 1960, nearly eight months after the inauguration of the opera house.19
Paul Déroulède, Nice, Klein and Arman paid a neighbourly visit to examine the works devised by André Bloc, which Claude Parent was in the process of installing.
The use of pulsed air
Alongside the different propositions made by Bloc (interior layouts, plans for a holiday home at Cap d’Antibes and designs for a chapel and church), Parent was also contacted in 1954 by Cícero Dias (1907-2003), a Brazilian painter and member of the Espace Group who had been based in Paris since 1937. Although Dias had himself taken architecture courses at the School of Fine Arts in Rio de Janeiro, he wanted the young architect to help him with his project for an electronic museum, a kind of anti-museum in which the pictures would move in front the seated viewer as he made his selection. The following year, Claude Parent embarked on what would be more than a year-long collaboration with the sculptor Nicolas Schöffer (1912-1992). It was now that, for the first time, his vision extended beyond an individual building: here, the sculptor was setting up a whole “spatio-dynamic” city. While not yet the architect of the oblique function — that theory arose from his 1963 partnership with the master glassmaker, photographer and urban theoretician Paul Virilio, in 1959 Claude Parent was an architect who, if rather conventional in his practice, which centred on the construction of individual homes, did have a reputation for being open to utopian ideas. With Klein he had found, in his own words, “the most dazzling of all” intellectual mentors.20 The collaboration between the two men lasted nearly three years, between 1959 and 1961, a time studded with late-night work sessions, passionate declarations and impromptu meetings, as in 1960, when, during work on an entrance hall in a block of flats in rue
11 As Claude Parent confirmed in a letter to François Perrin in April 2002, the two men had never met before Klein’s first visit to Claude Parent’s office in around May 1959. However, the architect already knew about the work of Yves le monochrome and had been to Klein’s “The Void” exhibition at Galerie Iris Clert the year before. See Peter Noever and François Perrin, Yves Klein: Air Architecture, Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2004, p. 103.
13 It should be pointed out that during his association with Yves Klein, Claude Parent entrusted several drawings to a young draughtsman called Sargologo, about whom very little is known.
Fire fountain in the exhibition “Yves Klein Monochrome und Feuer”, Museum Haus Lange, Krefeld, Germany, 14 January–26 February 1961
The technology of pulsed air was the starting point for their research and for the first two projects, on differing scales, to which they contributed. If the Pneumatic Rocket was more an exercise in style, a “pure fantasy,”21 the Air Architecture was a critical project, a thoroughgoing challenge to the art of building. In both cases, the interdisciplinary team formed by Klein and Parent recruited the skills of an industrial designer, Roger Tallon (1929-2011),22 who dealt with the maquettes and
12 H.U. Obrist, op. cit., pp. 29-30.
15 Born in Algiers in 1896, André Bloc graduated from the École Centrale des Arts et Manufactures in 1920. In collaboration with Marcel Eugène Cahen, and then with the latter’s widow and the architect Pierre Vago, in 1930 he created the famous journal L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui. His own activity as a builder came later and was linked more to his work as a sculptor, which began in 1940, arising out of his relations with artists and fellow refugees in the South of France. In 1949 he founded another journal, Art d’Aujourd’hui, renamed Aujourd’hui. Art et Architecture in 1955.
Body and spirit: the metaphysics of an encounter
14 He did not enter the French Order of Architects until 1966, with affiliation number A13403. Before that date, he was not legally entitled to call himself an architect.
16 Claude Parent and Ionel Schein opened their first office in 1953 after building the Gosselin house (Ville-d’Avray, 1952–53) and an internship of several months at the Le Corbusier practice. Their collaboration would continue until 1955. 17 The group returned to the debates held in 1947 at the Fourth Congress of International Modern Architecture and to the intentions of the Association pour une Synthèse des Arts Plastiques (1949), of which André Bloc and Le Corbusier were both members.
the technical design.23 A member of the Technès design office founded in 1949 by Jacques Viénot, Roger Tallon was also open to collaboration with artists, as is evident from his collaboration with the sculptor César on the exhibition “Antagonismes 2: L’Objet” (1962), when the two men exhibited Ensemble de télévision. In the history of the space race, the Pneumatic Rocket is a minor event which drew on contemporary exploits — the putting into orbit of the Sputnik satellite in 1957 and the first manned flight in space by Yuri Gagarin in 1961. From Klein’s rather basic first sketches, used when registering the model at the Institut National de la Propriété Industrielle in May 1960, to the maquette made by Roger Tallon, the principle of this rocket without passengers hardly ever varied. The air was pulsed mechanically, by pressure, out of the lungs of the Rocket, enabling it to advance in space. Following a simple principle, showing considerable formal similarity to certain underwater organisms, this rocket followed the one-way trajectory that Klein had already initiated with the flight of his Sculpture aérostatique (Aerostatic Sculpture). On 10 May 1957, day of the opening of the exhibition “Yves Klein: Propositions monochromes”, he released a thousand and one blue balloons outside Galerie Iris Clert, thus inaugurating the first high point of his so-called “pneumatic” period, of which the Air Architecture was a part.24 Irrespective of later philosophical considerations, the Air Architecture began as a system, a technical and conceptual approach to be applied, as were many architectural utopias, to the surface of a neutral Earth free of all earlier transformations. A place without time or history, where nudity evokes a return to the original Eden.25 In this world where walls and floors have disappeared, experience both spiritual (contemplation) and physical (levitation) are dominant, thanks to climatic architecture with a roof in pulsed air. However, as a cutaway view by Claude Parent indicates, this surface is deceptive. It hides sizeable underground machinery complete with pipes, reservoirs, turbines and control room. It was a complex technical system, unlikely in the real world, one that the architect found it hard to represent except in the form machines “à la Jules Verne”. But this naïve drawing did not really bother Klein, who was not ultimately looking for scientific exactitude.26 What did interest him, however, was the representation of the reversal of weightlessness allowed by the air beds. Since the body no longer felt its weight, man could now feel himself disappear, becoming no more than a conscious element or a pure sensibility.
18 Cf. “Le Groupe Espace,” in L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui, no. 37, October 1951, p. V. 19 See L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui, no. 91-92, September-October-November 1960, pp. 46-49. The recent co-opting of Claude Parent as a member of the journal’s editorial board does not seem to bear any relation to the presentation of this project in the issue. 20 H.U. Obrist, op. cit., p. 28.
22 The term used more commonly in France at the time was “industrial aesthetician” (esthéticien industriel). 23 Roger Tallon also used his contacts at Gaz de France to introduce Klein, who wanted to continue his experiments with fire painting. Tallon also opened the doors to industries working with liquid air and turbines. See A. Kahn, op. cit., p. 257.
For some time already, levitation had been at the centre of the artist’s work.27 He had experimented with it himself through the medium of photography in October 1960. Klein titled the photomontage made by Harry Shunk and John Kender “A man in space! The painter of space hurls himself into the void!” (Un homme dans l’espace! Le peintre de l’espace se jette dans le vide!). This iconic image of the artist hanging in the air is reminiscent of an ancient diver figure, also frozen for eternity between two worlds, the one represented on the so-called “Diver Tomb” (5th century bce) discovered in 1968 by the archaeologist Mario Napoli in the necropolis of the Tempa del Prete. The idea of pneumatic architecture, which uses or can be inflated with air, was taken up by a new generation of architects in the 1960s and 70s. But where Klein sought immateriality, they very seriously planned to make use of a new material that had been adapted to the needs of weaponry and aerospace technologies during the Second World War: plastic. Experimental architects,28 they developed inflatable, light, resistant structures with applications in architecture (Archigram, Event Structures Research Group, Graham Stevens, Ant Farm, Hans-Walter Müller) and design (Ronald-Cecil Sportes, A.J.S. Aérolande, Quasar). Plastic became a transparent surface for protection from the natural elements and, at the same time, an auto-stable reinforcing element, providing real air cushions to fit the user’s body. With Parent, the notion of levitation resonates differently from the start of the 1970s. What he was trying to get across with the ramps of his interior designs for oblique-style houses was more the dynamics of bodies and the idea of conscious projection.
The encounter of elements In 1961, parallel to the Air Architecture drawings, Klein asked Parent to help him on a project for Water and Fire Fountains, which he planned to position in one of the French capital’s tourist spots, place de Varsovie, between the Eiffel Tower and the Esplanade du Trocadéro. A direct offshoot of the sixteen Bengal lights he installed in the garden of Colette Allendy in 1957 and his research with Norbert Kricke in Germany, this ambitious project brought together two opposing elements that are difficult to channel, and yet Klein still sought financial backing to do so, which is why Parent drew several plans determining the location of the engine-pumps and projectors needed for the installation which was superposed on the one left from the Exposition Internationale of 1937. The other problem Parent had to deal with was the encounter of water and fire. How to convincingly figure the clash of these two forces? He chose to materialise an explosive confrontation
24 On Air Architecture, see especially the exhibition catalogue, “Yves Klein: Air Architecture,” op. cit. and the articles by Frédéric Migayrou, “Architectures du corps intensif. “Yves Klein: jalons pour une généalogie”, in Les Cahiers du Musée national d’Art moderne, no. 96, summer 2006, pp. 57-69, and Hélène Jannière, “De la mégastructure à l’environnement: Pierre Restany, critique de l’architecture et de l’urbanisme fonctionnalistes,” in Le demisiècle de Pierre Restany, Paris: INHA, Éditions Des Cendres, 2009, pp. 509-521.
25 Yves Klein, “Architecture de l’air (ANT 102), 1961. La climatisation de l’atmosphère à la surface de notre globe,” in Le dépassement de la problématique de l’art et autres écrits, op. cit., p. 271. 26 Claude Parent, “Yves Klein et son architecture,” in Art et Création, no. 1, January—February 1968, pp. 51-52.
21 Pierre Restany, “Roger Tallon: le rêve au rationnel,” Roger Tallon, itinéraires d’un designer industriel, Paris: Centre Georges Pompidou, 1993, p. 15.
Body and spirit: the metaphysics of an encounter
giving rise to the creation of a new element made of steam. In spite of Klein’s efforts to gain assurance from the Société pour le Développement de l’Industrie du Gaz de France that the distribution network in the zone was up to the task of supplying the apparatus, the project was not implemented. It nevertheless remained one of the few projects that was practicable, as Parent ascertained in February 1970 when he sent Jean Nouvel, then a young employee in his office, to meet a representative of Gaz de France.29 Nouvel noted that “technically, the apparatus seems simple to make. Based on a phenomenon of turbulence, the gas was to arrive with almost zero pressure through a wide-diameter burner. The safety device was to be reduced to the simplest possible form on each pipe.” By coincidence, the following year the artist Yaacov Agam reprised the idea in his Water and Fire SculptureFountain.30 On 7 March 1962, three months before Klein’s premature death, the exhibition “Antagonisme 2: L’Objet” opened in Paris. Organised under the authority of the Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs, this was the first — and last – opportunity for Klein, Parent and Tallon to display the different projects stemming from their collaboration as a coherent whole. In it, Tallon presented visitors with a robot that could trigger a shower of rain which was immediately pushed back by blown air. Here was the first prototype of Air Architecture.
WATER AND FIRE (Fire Fountains), ca. 1959 Ink and pencil on paper, 19.8 � 30.4 cm Yves Klein with the collaboration of Claude Parent
27 See the work of art historian Anne Bariteaud, notably her 2002 paper on La question de la lévitation dans l’œuvre d’Yves Klein, and her current doctoral research into Les pratiques expérimentales avec/contre la peinture dans les années 1950-1960 en Europe.
29 This information is taken from the account of the discussion at 361 Avenue du Président Wilson (Paris), on 16 February 1970, between Jean Nouvel and Monsieur Douspis, held in the Claude Parent archives. The context of this initiative still has to be determined.
28 In her book, Annette Kahn explains that Klein also tried to design inflatable furniture in PVC, in collaboration with Bernard Quentin. A. Kahn, op. cit., p. 257.
30 See Günter Metken, Yaacov Agam, London: Thames and Hudson, 1977, p. 68.
Body and spirit: the metaphysics of an encounter
Here Lies Parent’s collaboration with Klein continued beyond 1962, when the painter’s mother (Marie Raymond) and wife (Rotraut) asked the architect to conceive a memorial. The idea was not conceive a resting place for the body, but a commemorative monument to the man and his work, like an inseparable whole. It was a new exercise for Parent, who now had to act as an interpreter. The project was called Ci-gît (Here Lies), in reference to the planetary relief Ci-gît l’espace (Here Lies Space), (RP 3) from 1960, and no doubt also to the photograph from 30 March 1962 in which Klein is captured for eternity under this same canvas, with only his head visible beyond the upper edge of the stretcher laid on the ground. Although committed to his “oblique function” since he founded the Architecture Principe group (1963–68), Parent proposed a rather plain project based on simple geometrical figures. Based on a square plan, the ensemble was organised around a central podium, which served as a multidirectional observation point. Two cylinders, one placed horizontally and the other at an oblique angle, are accessible from this point, physically or only visually. The alignment is completed by another cylinder positioned vertically above an open-topped corridor. For the architect, these three fundamental orientations evoke the immaterial, the monochrome and the atmospheric as much as they do water and fire, the dynamic action and relation between earth and air. By aiming for the sky and the distance, they objectify that part of the world that Klein had claimed at the moment of that famous dividing of the universe with Arman and Claude Pascal.31 The fourth orientation, the one materialised by the two wells of differing lengths, was the most significant for Parent, who saw it as an “exploration of cryptic space. He discovered it when working with Paul Virilio on the church of Sainte-Bernadette du Banlay (Nevers, 1963–66), and reused it here in a less provocative form. Today, emulators of his project can be found in a number of Land Art works, notably by James Turrell and Nancy Holt. The latter’s Sun Tunnels (Utah, 1973–76), for example, are an attempt to capture the movements of the sun through four concrete tubes 6 metres long and 2.5 metres high, placed on the ground and oriented in accordance with the summer and winter solstices. After the trials made in Saint-Paul de Vence (1964–65) and Nice (1985), this memorial could still be built today.
31 I refer here to the moment, between 1947 and 1948, when, steeped in the ideas of the Rosicrucian Society of Oceanside, the three friends divided up the universe: Arman took the animal kingdom, Claude Pascal the vegetable kingdom, and Klein the mineral kingdom and the sky.
Gold leaves scattered on Here Lies Space, (RP 3), in Yves Klein’s apartment at 14 rue Campagne-Première, Paris, France, 1960
But who can know what the edifice might be like? While we can say who conceived it and how, we cannot foretell the emotions it might inspire in us. Our only recourse here is to the imagination. And so let us project ourselves mentally into this architecture in raw concrete, rough to the touch but soft to the eyes, and enjoy walking around, unconcerned by people will say. Let us live an experience, that of the state of perception. As an architecture of sensation — space / time, material / immaterial, darkness / light, hardness / plasticity — it will accept its zones of shadow and disequilibrium inherent in its position on a slope. And perhaps, looking onto the inside of one of its grey
cylinders, we shall see what Yves Klein meant to show us and, who knows, we will hear once again a Monotone Silence Symphony?
Body and spirit: the metaphysics of an encounter
5 Photograph of Yves Klein in front of the Work Here Lies Space, (RP 3), in the apartment at 14 rue CampagnePremiĂ¨re, Paris, France, ca. 1960
6 Yves Klein, Oh Lightning…, (F 127), 1962 Burned cardboard, 11 � 17 cm Collection Centre International d’Art Contemporain de Carros 7 Yves Klein, The Dream of Fire,1961 ca. Photograph Artistic action by Yves Klein
— P. U. What is the first word that the name Yves Klein brings to mind? — C. P. To me, Yves Klein is all a wild part of my life. I believe that if I had not met Yves Klein, at a time that can only be deemed appropriate considering the effect it has had on me, I would not have been the architect I am. I think it was a key – and unexpected – encounter in my life as an architect. It is very important. — P. U. All right, we will come back to the significance of this encounter with you, but tell me more about the circumstances of your first meeting. — C. P. Our first meeting was almost banal. I was spending a lot of time with artists, and had been in the overall artistic environment as an architect for many years because as part of the Espace Group. I had been aware of all the architecture movements involved in geometrical abstraction. It was my world, my family. Contrary to the architects of those days, my real family was not in the bosom of architects, but with artists. Hence, I was very open at meeting people like Yves Klein. It was bound to
happen. I recall that these artists, and especially the ones in the geometrical abstraction environment, often visited me. They came together to work with me on architecture stories, or, when they had architectural ideas and wanted to convey them, so that I would coordinate them, work out the architectural development of their ideas. And the word went around. Tinguely just turned up to design his “Luna Tour”. We worked on the project together. Then one of them said to Klein: listen, you express yourself very, very well in conferences, as well as in your speeches, your writing, it’s amazing, but your drawings don’t have the same expressive power. That is why you should go and see Parent, because he is used to working with artists. He will understand your ideas. Maybe he will appreciate your needs, and you will end up with an architectural image of what you say, which is quite a different vector, but still important. And he came to see me very straightforwardly and said: these are my ideas. Of course, I already knew him as a figure, whom I had never met, and was aware of his work. I knew he had worked with an architect, Ruhnau, but ignored what he had done. It was around the time of Gelsenkirchen. He was doing his sponge reliefs over there, and this was the time when he started to need to exemplify the meeting of water and fire. Actually, that’s the first thing. How do you display in illustrations that are convincing and expressive such an encounter as the one between water and fire? Not simple, in fact almost impossible. I started by working on that, tried to make it understandable. I asked him if he had any interest in what I was doing, if it did not betray the idea. Because the encounter of water with fire is quite something. It opens up a whole, extraordinary world, opening onto crazy worlds, it’s something mad and is in line with culture… In every culture, in every civilisation, such astonishing challenges exist. So it wasn’t easy. — P. U. To work with Yves Klein, one needed a great spirit of understanding of the principles he was involved with. How did you understand the principles behind Klein’s work?
Portrait of Claude Parent, ca. 1980
— C. P. I think you are right. It’s the main answer. If you don’t believe in it, you can’t draw. It is not about putting oneself in someone else’s shoes, one cannot do so with Yves Klein; but if you don’t have total belief when he is actually talking to you, if you are nothing but a good audience, if you are not a believer, if you are not trustful, you can’t do it. And those who have met Yves Klein to work with him must have done what I did. They could say that Klein was a fantastic storyteller, and a man with an
DIALOGUE BY PHILIPPE UNGAR Interview held in October 2006, in Paris.
rational way with Yves Klein. The discourse, the exchanges were rational; the result of the working environment in which I was drawing was irrational. — P. U. I was referring to principles, because the architect, the “arkhe” is a man of principles. How do you describe this Yves Klein universe into which you spontaneously entered? — C. P. At first sight, it still appeared as an imbalance of what is actually called architecture. The proposals that we discussed with Yves Klein referred to something ancestral and forgotten rather than to the utopia of the moment. I don’t believe one can say that Yves Klein is a utopian. I think he is more an inventor of a different world, which relates as much to the past as to what might occur.
Fire Column on Water, 1960 Pencil on paper, 41 � 57 cm Yves Klein with the collaboration of Claude Parent
exceptional power over listeners, and whenever he talked to me, I could see the world broaden. He was an extremely convincing man, and had such a way of conveying his conviction in his communication, his voice, the way he presented things, that carried you like a wave: you were carried along by Klein’s mental flow. You couldn’t either defend oneself, you just had to make a slight effort to stay with him, to accept the immersion. But it is always quite emotional for me, because having lived it like that, I relive it in the same way, and I tell myself that I have met few men in my life that explained me, put out a message, carried me along within this message to the point of forgetting many of my own attitudes, and of being subjected to a transmutation that I clearly felt, but accepted with great pleasure. It has been a great delight. — P. U. What sort of transmutation? — C. P. A transmutation of the mind, of the attitude towards the world. What Catholicism had done for me when I was 12 or 13, for instance, the private communion ceremony, the fact of being carried into a different world, of wishing to become part of it, I met again in the most apparently prosaic and completely
Dialogue with Claude Parent
— P. U. Then perhaps you could explain his relation to the past, and then to the future. — C. P. The image of things of the past, it’s the golden age. When he talked about the Air Architecture, he called into question the golden age, i.e. an age we never knew, and which was evoked by all religions at one time or another. A time when man was different, a time when man was not down to earth, a time when man was involved in a permanent cosmic dialogue, and when man feared nothing, did not need to protect himself, but could live with his surroundings, with nature, all these forces that pre-existed his arrival. Here, it’s clear that the past appears as a hope, not something that happened and that one lost, not a lost paradise, but like something that may still survive and regain its strength, its dynamics. All those things that you have uncovered through legends, in those worlds where things happened differently. I find it natural, normal to have stuck with these things, although I am not at all a spiritualist, not the least concerned about going to Kathmandu. None of that ever crossed my mind. And there, suddenly, this sort of blend between the most beautiful legends about what men may have been one day earlier, before they stooped to materialistic vulgarity, to being the winner, the wealthiest, the strongest, the most powerful, craving for power. I could feel that there was there a challenge to face that would have been remarkable. The craving for power is something I have always found extremely negative for mankind.
Sketch for the Pneumatic Rocket, ca. 1960 Ink and pencil on paper Yves Klein with the collaboration of Claude Parent Collection Claude Parent
— P. U. Isn’t what is at stake here ultimately man’s relation to constraint? — C. P. Maybe. Though we still have to define… What actually worried me was when my colleagues used to say: if there is no constraint to overcome, I will not create good architecture. Or they would say: that architecture, you see, is a success because there were constraints and I overcame them. As if constraint was the main stimulus to quality architecture. And I don’t believe in that. I think we waste too much time, we use too much energy to precisely get rid of constraints of all sorts that society nowadays, for reasons unknown to me, has been piling up without ever getting them out of the way century after century, millennium after millennium, and that it is to these constraints that men craving for power are tied. I believe that Klein’s conception is: I act without knowing that there are constraints, I forget, I don’t want to know. And I was happy because thanks to him, at one time in my life, for approximately three years – because he died fairly soon after we met –, I thought I had been freed, I was free. Now, in my whole commitment as an architect, and I cannot say it often enough although nobody believes me, I have been attached to architecture because it is a fantastic means of expressing one’s own freedom, of fashioning it, of displaying it and of being free. I was born in this world to be free. The world is such that it doesn’t want you to be, but one way or another, architecture has allowed me – at a cost, quite hefty sometimes, for entire
Dialogue with Claude Parent
periods, to stress that I was still a free man, and I owe it in great part to Yves Klein. — P. U. Isn’t the world, as considered by Yves Klein, also linked to the use of technique, precisely to overcome constraint? I am thinking in particular about gravity. — C. P. That is what amazed me most, because he always said that hyper-technology was the basis on which to build a freed world. Therefore, when I was drawing, I was quite startled, and I have already said it to others who didn’t understand very well – as nor did I at the beginning: but why do you want me to draw technologies, make drawings displaying technology? He said: because it is very important. And I would draw for him, saying: you see, these drawings that I make of technology, the technological illustration that I deliver through these drawings, it’s something that’s already dated. It’s just as if I was drawing Jules Verne for you. He would reply: well, I like these drawings, you have done that for me as I asked you, and I like it, it suits me, and it is very important for me to have this support. If I didn’t have it, how could I make believe in the air roof? In the freedom from gravity of air objects that are transformed into seats? If I don’t have at least a hypertechnological image to demonstrate my power. And he wanted it to be a dream. Well, when one looks into technology worldwide, one discovers that it has no boundaries. It is the use that one makes of it. But when one considers all that is
— C. P. Yes, if once again one refers to the presentations and the drawings designed to illustrate them with his full agreement. One can see that it is a kind of innocence. This return to the golden age is a reversion to natural art, without barriers or clothes. The contemporary world is made only of barriers. One builds walls around oneself, creates mental barriers, physiological barriers. It’s an incredible thing to separate two countries by a wall. The Germans and the Russians have done it with the Berlin Wall. A few years later, it’s done again in Israel. It’s weird, the wall is still a symbol. I wrote an article about the wall and the reinstatement of the wall. Mind you, it is true that our modern world was built on the idea of the wall — P. U. It depends on its height! Climate-controlled City, ca. Pencil on paper, 26.5 � 36 Yves Klein with the collaboration of Executed by Sargologo at the office of
1961 cm Claude Parent Claude Parent
done with our technology, interstellar flights, all that has been accumulated up over one or two centuries, it seems obvious that if they were to be orientated towards a way of life, one could do amazing things that nobody ever thought about. — P. U. Claude Parent, behind this investment in technology, what was Yves Klein’s idea of mankind? — C. P. Since my drawings were granted the imprimatur, since that was how he saw them and released them, therefore I did have the imprimatur, it is because he wanted a sometimes very naïve image in my drawings, and notably with the Air Architecture: that is what he liked, what he wanted to reach, that thing when suddenly, man can become naked again, live within a community, without walls. They are at ground level where, in the area dedicated to them, they have the opportunity to be relieved of their own weight in an evidently technical way, and to gain freedom for the individual to move in locations that are recognised as dwelling places. — P. U. Yves Klein’s man, after all, is an innocent man, or one who has recovered his innocence?
Dialogue with Claude Parent
— C. P. Yes (smiles). I think that Klein’s message, if one could refer to the most practical, the strongest, the most genuine and immediately applicable is: try to dismantle the barriers, the lock-in. From birth, we live in a partitioned world, in a world permanently enclosed. And that image, which is not an image, which is an actual division of the ground, is something frightening that prevents us from evolving. — P. U. It may be without partitions, but is Yves Klein’s world really without boundaries? — C. P. I don’t think so. Because after all the years I spent working on the continuity of spaces, I had to write that the more we had continuity of space, the more obvious it was, the more it would be necessary to break this continuity. That was when I wrote a little red book called Errer dans l’illusion (Wandering in Illusion), which suggests that if one aspires to continuity, one must learn how to break it without partitioning the domain in which such continuity is developing. And there, in the air roof, it appears evident. The air roof protects a defined area, there are no partitions between the air roof and the country, no limits, the ground is continuous. Even where there is an air roof and life as conceived by Yves Klein, it still is a finished world. — P. U. A determination?
8—9 Yves Klein, Untitled blue monochrome (IKB 219 A), 1959 Pure pigment and synthetic resin, gauze mounted on panel, 92 � 73 cm Dedication on back: “Yves 59 / to Naad and Claude Parent / Yves Klein le monochrome” 10 Yves Klein, Untitled Fire Painting (F 118), 1961 Burned cardboard mounted on panel, 40.5 � 56 cm Work previously belonging to Naad and Claude Parent