Explained: Why a receipt for an invisible artwork could fetch half-a-million dollars at auction

A receipt for an invisible artwork by French artist Yves Klein, issued in 1959, is expected to fetch somewhere 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 Nouveau Réaliste movement that began in France in the 1950s. Known for his radical ways and conceptual art, the artist died from 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 “The Void” at Galerie Iris Clert in Paris which saw him place a large cabinet in an empty room. The collectors were given an opportunity to purchase a work from the non-existent conceptual series in return for pure gold. They were also given a choice – either to keep their receipt or burn them in a ritual.

🗞️ Subscribe Now: Get Express Premium to access the best Election reporting and analysis 🗞️

For those who chose to burn them, Klein also dumped half of the gold he was paid for the work into the Seine River. Klein described the 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 issued to antique dealer Jacques Kugel. It is now in possession of art advisor and former gallery owner Loic Malle, who is putting over 100 items from his private collection up for auction.

In a note on the work, Sotheby’s compares the receipts up for auction to Non-Fungible Tokens. (Photo: Sotheby’s)

Why is the receipt significant?

A reminder of the revolutionary art piece conceptualized by Klein, American visual art magazine ARTnews has stated that according to historian Denys Riout, there are only four surviving receipts from the sales made between 1959 and 1962. The receipt being auctioned 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 the receipts to Non-Fungible Tokens (NFT) in art, which has gained prominence since last year. The note reads, “Some have equated the transfer of a zone of sensitivity and the invention of receipts as 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. “

What is Klein famous for?

Coming from a family of artists, Klein had no formal training in art. He was a key member of the Parisian Nouveau Réalisme movement that emphasized on finding “new ways of perceiving the real”.

The 1950s saw him work primarily in monochromes of gold, mono pink and blue. In 1960, he famously patented the 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 ’50s, where he had models painted with the shade of blue pressing their bodies against blank canvases.

His 1960 photograph “Leap into the Void” showed the artist vaulting down from a building with his hands stretched. Exploring the spiritual realm, the photograph combined two separate images.

Newsletter | Click to get the day’s best explainers in your inbox

Leave a Comment