Yves Klein’s receipt for ‘invisible’ art could bring in half a million dollars

Written by Oscar Holland, CN

In 1958, artist Yves Klein opened a famous exhibition called “The Void”, which saw him place a large closet in an otherwise empty space. Thousands of paying visitors showed up at a gallery in Paris to catch a glimpse of anything.

Following the success of the show, the French artist took the idea a step further – by giving collectors the chance to buy a range of non-existent and completely conceptual spaces in exchange for a weight of pure gold.

A handful of buyers took him up on the offer. And now, almost 60 years after Klein’s death, one of the receipts he wrote to prove ownership of his invisible works of art is for sale, and auction house Sotheby’s estimates it could fetch up to 500,000 euros ($ 551,000).

The receipt, which measures less than 8 inches wide, gives ownership of one of Klein’s imaginary spaces, which he called a “Zones of Intangible Pictorial Sensibility.” Designed to look like a bank check, it’s signed by the artist and dated December 7, 1959.

A receipt for 'invisible' art could yield half a million dollars.

A receipt for ‘invisible’ art could yield half a million dollars. Credit: Sotheby’s

The receipt was originally given to antiques dealer Jacques Kugel, and is among one of the few believed to have survived, Sotheby’s said in a press release. This is not just because Klein struggled to sell many of the imaginary works, but because he offered his customers a choice: to keep their receipt or burn them in a ritual.

Had they chosen the latter, they would have been considered the “definitive owner” of the conceptual work of art. As part of Klein’s performance art, he then burned the receipt in the presence of witnesses before dumping half of the gold he was paid into the Seine.

Kugel chose to keep his, and it has since been shown at major art institutions across Europe, including London’s Hayward Gallery and the Center Pompidou in Paris. The item is put up for sale by art consultant and former gallery owner Loïc Malle, who is putting over 100 items from his private collection up for auction.

Comparing Klein’s idea to NFTs, Sotheby’s said they would accept payment by cryptocurrency for the item.
“Some have compared the transfer of a sensitivity zone and the invention of receipts as an ancestor of the NFT, which itself allows the exchange of intangible works,” the auction catalog states. “If we add that Klein kept a register of the successive owners of the ‘zones’, it is easy to find another revolutionary concept here – the ‘blockchain’.”

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Sotheby’s also confirmed in a press release that the successful bidder “will not be the guardian of this historic receipt, but also for Klein’s invisible works of art.”

Klein, who died in 1962, was a key figure in the nouveau réalisme (new realism) movement, which used art to undermine viewers’ perceptions of reality. In 1957 he opened an exhibition in Milan consisting of 11 blue canvases, identical in shape, shade and size. His most famous work, however, is the photograph “Leap into the Void” from 1960, which seemed to show the artist jumping from a high wall, even though it was actually a composition of two separate images.

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