Explained: Why a receipt for an invisible work of art could fetch half a million dollars at auction

A receipt for an invisible work by French artist Yves Klein, issued in 1959, is expected to fetch between 300,000 and 500,000 euros when it goes under the hammer at Sotheby’s on April 6.

An important figure in post-war European art, Klein was a member of the New Realist movement born in France in the 1950s. Known for his radical ways and his conceptual art, the artist died of a heart attack at the age of 34 in 1962.

When and why did Klein issue the receipt?

One of the pioneers of performance art, in 1958 Klein opened an exhibition called “Le Vide” at Galerie Iris Clert in Paris which saw him place a large cabinet in an empty room. Collectors had the option of buying a non-existent conceptual series work in exchange for pure gold. They were also given a choice – either to keep their receipt or to burn them in a ritual.

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For those who chose to burn them, Klein also dumped half the gold he was paid for the work into the Seine. Klein described imaginary spaces as “zones of immaterial pictorial sensibility”.

The 8.5 x 19.5 cm receipt that will be sold by Sotheby’s is dated December 7, 1959 and was originally given to the antique dealer Jacques Kugel. It is now owned by art advisor and former gallery owner Loic Malle, who is auctioning more than 100 items from his private collection.

In a note on the works, Sotheby’s compares auctioned receipts to non-fungible tokens. (Photo: Sotheby’s)

Why is the receipt important?

Recalling the groundbreaking artwork Klein conceptualized, American visual art magazine ARTnews said that, according to historian Denys Riout, only four receipts remain from sales made between 1959 and 1962. The receipt up for auction has been exhibited widely, including at the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid in 1995 and the Center Pompidou in Paris in 2007.

In a note on the work, Sotheby’s compares receipts to non-fungible tokens (NFTs) in art, which has gained prominence since last year. The note reads: “Some have equated the transfer of a sensitive area and the invention of receipts to an ancestor of the NFT, which itself allows the exchange of immaterial works. If we add that Klein kept a register of the successive owners of the “zones”, it is easy to find here another revolutionary concept – the blockchain.

Why is Klein famous?

Coming from a family of artists, Klein had no formal training in art. He was a key member of the New Realism movement in Paris which emphasized the search for “new ways of perceiving reality”.

The 1950s saw him working primarily in monochromes of gold, mono rose and blue. In 1960 he patented International Klein Blue (IKB), a deep blue hue created by him and used in a series of his works, including a performance piece in the late 1950s, where he had models with the shade of blue. pressing their bodies against blank canvases.

His 1960 photograph “Leap into the Void” showed the artist leaping from a building with outstretched hands. Exploring the spiritual realm, the photograph combined two distinct images.

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