Yves Klein’s receipt for ‘invisible’ art fetches over $1 million at auction

Written by Oscar Holland, CNN

This item has been updated to reflect the item’s selling price at auction.

In 1958, artist Yves Klein opened a famous exhibition called “The Void,” in which he placed a large cabinet in an otherwise empty room. Thousands of paying visitors showed up at a Paris gallery to take a look at nothing at all.

Following the show’s success, the French artist took the idea one step further, giving collectors the opportunity to purchase a series of non-existent, entirely conceptual spaces in exchange for a peso of pure gold.

A handful of buyers accepted the offer. And on Wednesday, nearly 60 years after Klein’s death, one of the receipts he wrote to prove ownership of his unseen works of art sold for more than €1.06 million ($1.16 million) in Sotheby’s auction house in Paris.

Less than 8 inches wide, the receipt grants ownership of one of Klein’s imaginary spaces, which he called “Zones of Immaterial Pictorial Sensibility.” Designed to resemble a bank check, it is signed by the artist and dated December 7, 1959.

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

The receipt was originally given to antiquities dealer Jacques Kugel, and is one of the few believed to have survived, Sotheby’s said in a news release. before the auction. This is not simply because Klein struggled to sell many of his imaginary works, but because he offered his clients a choice: keep his receipt or ritually burn him.

Had he opted for the latter, he would be considered the “ultimate owner” of the conceptual work. As part of Klein’s performance, he would later burn the receipt in the presence of witnesses before dumping half of the gold he was paid into the River Seine.

Kugel opted to keep his, and it has since been exhibited at major art institutions across Europe, including the Hayward Gallery in London and the Center Pompidou in Paris. The item is being put up for sale by art consultant and former gallery owner Loïc Malle, who is auctioning off more than 100 items from his private collection.

In its auction catalogue, Sotheby’s compared Klein’s idea to NFTs, writing: “Some have likened the transfer of a zone of sensitivity and the invention of receipts as an ancestor of the NFT, which in turn allows the exchange of immaterial works. If we add that Klein kept a record of the successive owners of the ‘zones’, it is easy to find another revolutionary concept here: the ‘blockchain'”.

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Sotheby’s confirmed before the sale that the successful bidder would not only “become the custodian of this historic receipt, but also of Klein’s unseen artwork.”

Klein, who died in 1962, was a key figure in the nouveau réalisme (new realism) movement, which used art to subvert viewers’ perceptions of reality. In 1957 he opened an exhibition in Milan made up of 11 blue canvases, identical in shape, color and size. However, his best-known work is the 1960 photograph “Leap into the Void,” which appeared to show the artist jumping from a high wall, although it was actually a combination of two separate images.

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