There’s also a large-scale installation of loose, blue pigment, stretching out like a desert landscape across the Great Hall’s mighty flagstones. It looks oddly out of place at the heart of a such an exquisite Baroque Hall boasting grandiose eighteenth-century furnishings. But its extraordinary radiance and impression of depthless space seduces instantaneously.
Born in Nice in 1928, Klein is best known for a number of seminal art historical achievements: his prodigious use of the trademarked ultramarine pigment, International Klein Blue (IKB); his melding of painting and performance by using the naked female form as a brush in his Anthropométries series; and his reduction of art to its most visceral and elemental states. In spite of (or arguably because of) his tragic death at the age of 34, Klein remains among the most coveted artists of 20th-century art.
Installation view. Blenheim Palace, Yves Klein, Jonathan Swift (c.1960), courtesy of Blenheim Art Foundation, photo by Tom Lindboe
To celebrate what would be the 90th anniversary of Klein’s birth, Blenheim Palace, in collaboration with the Yves Klein Foundation, presents the most comprehensive exhibition of the artist’s work to ever take place in the UK. It's also the fifth anniversary exhibition of the Blenheim Art Foundation, launched in 2014 to establish a new programme of contemporary art at BlenheimFor the duration of the summer, more than 50 of Klein’s post-modernist, predominantly monochrome, works garnish the splendid treasures of Blenheim.
The meeting of two formidable forces is a lovely idea. But in practice, it falls a little flat. What starts as a harmonious marriage of old and new in the Great Hall swiftly turns into a bitter divorce in the following suite of rooms. As we journey through the chronological survey of Klein’s oeuvre, his monochrome blue, pink, red and yellow works fight for space and attention with the dreamlike antiques of Blenheim. The State Rooms become an unsuspecting battleground in which numerous head-to-heads unfold.
In the Red Drawing Room, one of Klein’s celebrated Anthropometry paintings spars with a finely tuned Reynolds portrait of the Marlborough family. In the Green Writing Room, a posthumous monochrome Lalique crystal globe rests uneasily atop an exquisite Boulle marquetry desk. In the Saloon, twelve Klein Blue Venus sculptures rub shoulders with the well-clad courtiers populating the magnificent series of trompe l’oeil paintings by the great Louis Laguerre. The jolting juxatpositions soon become jarring. It’s Klein against the palace: the palace wins.
Installation view, Blenheim Palace,Yves Klein, Untitled Blue Monochrome, courtesy of Blenheim Art Foundation, photo by Tom Lindb
Displayed among an embarrassment of riches, Klein’s works struggle to breathe; their revolutionary status forgotten in the shadows of Masters old. Text panels are sparse and there's no accompanying catalgoue; this is a decorative exhibition with little academic purpose.
That said, it’s a rare and sweet treat to see such a Klein ensemble under one roof. Indeed, in some parts of the palace, Klein looks right at home. The Relief Portraits of Arman and Claude Pascal mounted on monochrome panel gilded with gold leaf stand proud next to the full-size marble Queen Anne bust in the Long Library. As a celebrated showman, it's easy to imagine the performance artist reveling in such a spectacle.
There's no doubt that flashes of IKB revitalise Blenheim’s ornate but static collection. With new distraction, eyes dart around the palace’s eighteenth-century interiors with renewed fervour. Thanks to Klein, Meissen porcelain, the Blenheim Tapestries and première partie Boulle furniture breathe new life.
Klein is well-deserving of this long-overdue UK retrospective. And Blenheim merits a day trip if you haven’t yet been. But, in truth, the two don't go merrily hand in hand. Where are the dreaded white-washed walls when you need them?
|What||Review: Yves Klein, Blenheim Palace|
|Where||Blenheim Palace, Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, OX20 1PP | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Paddington (underground)|
18 Jul 18 – 07 Oct 18, 10:00 AM – 4:30 PM
|Price||£14.50 - £26|
|Website||Click here for more information and to book|