Odd Couple: Yves Klein and Ed Kienholz
(East of Borneo, October 2011)
"Shortly after the untimely death of her first husband, Rotraut Klein-Moquay set out to sea carrying a box of gold leaf. A photograph from that afternoon shows the widow shaded by a sun hat, cradling the gold in her lap just minutes before she and her companion on the trip, Yves Klein’s oldest friend, Arman, would scatter it into the Mediterranean. 1 Despite the circumstances—Klein’s sudden expiry, the reunion of the mourners who seemed to cast into the waves the remains of the lost art phenom, transmuted into the remnants of his gold monochromes—there was nothing lugubrious about the ritual. In fact, its purpose wasn’t even to honor the deceased, but rather to honor an exchange with one of his acquaintances, many miles away in Los Angeles—the artist Edward Kienholz.
A year earlier, when Yves Klein and his wife arrived in Los Angeles following a short stint in New York, Kienholz had greeted the famed French artist with a welcome gift: a briefcase outfitted irreverently with certain items including a bottle of “GoodAire,” a blue-pigment-soaked sponge, and an aerosol can labeled “IKB” (for International Klein Blue). Amused by the gesture, Klein offered Kienholz in return a piece of the Void, one of a series of Klein’s works known as the Zones of Immaterial Pictorial Sensibility. This plot of nothingness constituted a heightened state of sensitivity, which Klein typically exchanged for a given weight in gold; but its full transfer could only be completed if the buyer agreed to burn the receipt of purchase (thus leaving no material proof of ownership), at which point Klein would throw half the gold into a river or ocean.
Most accounts of the Zones include only those ritual relinquishments that took place on the banks of the Seine between the years 1959 and 1962, neglecting this posthumous transfer undertaken for Kienholz by Klein-Moquay and Arman. 2 The ritual for Kienholz was an anomaly in several ways: its high officiator had departed, its beneficiary was 6,000 miles away, and its gold was not the purchase price paid by a collector, but a proxy for his gift. Finally, although Klein had exchanged a number of works with other artists during his stay in the United States, Kienholz was the only one to get a Zone.
Why Kienholz? Or for that matter, why Klein? In the early sixties, Kienholz’s work seemed much closer to that of their mutual friend Jean Tinguely, and one might imagine that Klein’s taste for showmanship would have made him “too Hollywood” for Kienholz or anyone in the Los Angeles art scene at that time. Yet Klein certainly had something that captivated Kienholz then, even if it took several years to appear on the surface of his works; something that complemented what the West was and was to become—its vast spaces, its fast money, its dark armatures."...
Rotraut Klein-Moquay with part of Yves Klein's Zone for Edward Kienholz, 1963. Courtesy of the Yves Klein Archive, Paris.