Claude Parent, Mémorial à Yves Klein, 1964
“I will raze everything at the surface of Earth, until it is flat. I will fill the valleys with mountains, then I would pour concrete all over the continent….”
Yves Klein, “Je raserai tout à la surface de la terre,” unpublished essay, Yves Klein Archives.
In 1958 in the Iris Clert Gallery in Paris, the artist Yves Klein presented an iconic work, a completely empty room, an installation entitled “The Specialization of Sensibility in the Raw Material State into Stabilized Pictorial Sensibility, The Void” (Further read here). This crucial episode might be considered the starting point of the artist’s research for an architectural space in connection to the notion of immateriality and his paradoxical attempt to materialize it. After 1958, Klein began working on his projects of “Air Architecture”, collaborating at first with the architect Werner Runhau, a member of the Mobile Architecture Group. Later, artist Jean Tinguely invited him to contact Claude Parent, as at that time, the architect used to work with artists to help them express their thoughts in architectural drawings and forms. The two would start a prolific collaboration which Parent would recall as something that had a deep (“brutal“) impact on his vision and practice. Notably, for his research of an architecture without a specific delimitation in space.
Yves Klein during the work on the Gelsenkirchen Opera, 1959
Cité climatisée — “Accés `a l’eden technique” (Air conditioned city — “Access to technical Eden”), 1961
Klein’s experiences in the production of architecture, supported by Parent’s knowledge, aimed to obtain structures which would levitate against gravity through the passage of air and hydrogen, environments regulating their interior climatization and public spaces designed through the presence of water and fire. Self-propelled pneumatic rockets, aeromagnetic sculptures and levitating structures as roofs and walls made by air, are all part of this research between technology and architectural space, a research carried out through drawings, installations, essays and experiments. This investigation responded to the artist’s radical vision of an evolving society where the family structures and the human’s need for intimacy would disappear and the main activity would become leisure. A vision shared with radical architects like Constant and Cedric Price and later reinterpreted by the works of Superstudio and Archizoom.
“The architecture of air has in our minds always been just a transitional stage, but today we present it as a means for the climatization of geographical spaces.The principle of privacy, still present in our world, has vanished in this city, which is bathed in light and completely open to the outside.
A new atmosphere of human intimacy prevails.
The inhabitants live in the nude.
The primitive patriarchal structure of the family no longer exists.
The community is perfect, free, individualistic, impersonal.
The principal activity of the inhabitants: leisure.”
Yves Klein, Manifesto. Inscribed on the painting Architecture de l’air, Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo. Translated in Yves Klein: Air Architecture, eds. Peter Noever and François Perrin (Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz, 2004
These principles are the backgound for two projects carried out by Klein and Parent together: the “air-conditioned city”, where the whole Earth surface would become an inhabitable environment and “The air roof”, an immaterial enclosure protecting the infinite open space where humanity would live freely and protected from bad weather.
The air-conditioned city
Other projects that Klein imagined and Parent helped to make visible include the “Pneumatic Rocket”, an air-driven projectile intended to leave the Earth and the “Fontaines de Varsovie” project (1962), a fountain of water and fire for the Palais de Chaillot.
The collaboration between the two continued symbolically after Klein’s sudden death, with the project of the artist’s memorial designed by Claude Parent. The Yves Klein Memorial (1964-1965) was supposed to be built on a small plot of land above Saint-Paul de Vence in southeastern France and was commissioned to Parent by the mother and the widow of the artist. The project, still unbuilt, is a tribute to Yves Klein’s research through the interpretation of his favourite themes in the shape of an initiatory journey. The visitor is invited to experience the structure, a set of pure volumes and open spaces, and pass through the different cilinders. Each cylinder creates an environnement which relates to Klein’s main themes: immateriality, space, monochrome, atmosphere and introspection. In opposition to the immateriality pursued by the artist, the memorial was conceived in concrete and with precise shapes, as the architect “didn’t want to copy Klein’s themes but to illustrate them in a architectural way“.
As you can listen in this interesting 2012 interview (in French), Claude Parent is still trying to get the Memorial built, for the deep attachment he still feels for an artist who in his words “still has a special place in his life“.
Claude Parent, Mémorial à Yves Klein, 1964. Collection FRAC Centre, Orléans. Photo by Francois Lauginie
Yves Klein/Claude Parent, Fontaine de Varsovie (1961)
Yves Klein/Claude Parent, Fontaine de Varsovie (1961)
Images “© Yves Klein, ADAGP, Paris”
Yves Klein Archives