An invisible work by Yves Klein has just been sold for more than a million dollars at Sotheby’s in Paris.
Well, sort of. On the bidding block was a paper receipt for a “Zone of immaterial pictorial sensitivity,“or an “empty space zone”, a 1959 conceptual creation by the French artist. The lot, which came with a guarantee, was worth €850,000 ($927,300), far exceeding its estimate of €280,000 to €500,000 ($305,000 – $545,000). After costs, the price of the object exceeds €1,060,000 ($1.2 million).
According to Sotheby’s, the buyer was a “private European collector”.
Klein sold several of these invisible “zones” – each instantiated by a receipt – between 1959 and his death in 1962, accepting only pure gold as payment. Usually, the exchange is accompanied by a ritual: the buyer of the work burns the receipt while Klein himself throws half of the gold into the Seine. The act, according to the artist, “rebalanced the natural order”between buyer and seller.
For this reason, few Klein receipts exist today. The copy sold in Paris was originally acquired by Parisian merchant Jacques Kugel, who chose to keep the certificate rather than burn it. (In this case and others where the buyer chose to keep the receipt, Klein reused the gold for his Monogoldsseries of sculptures.)
Today the receipt was included in a Sotheby’s sale dedicated to the collection of French collector and art advisor Loïc Malle, who bought the piece of paper 35 years ago. Other notable pieces featured in the sale included an ink-on-paper drawing by Philip Guston, which sold for €491,000 ($534,000), and a Robert Morris Rule sculpture, which fetched €378,000 ($411,000).
The auction house likened Klein’s receipt to a proto-NFT, a non-physical work of art represented only by a certificate of ownership. By doubling down on this connection, for this sale, the auction house has announced that it will welcome cryptocurrency payments for the first time in its Paris branch. (Sotheby’s claimed to be the first major auction house to accept cryptocurrency for a physical work of art in May 2021, when it offered a Banksy painting for Bitcoin or Etherat one of its signature nightly auctions in New York.)
Auction house representatives said it was “too early to tell” if the Klein buyer plans to pay with crypto.
Areas of empty space weren’t Klein’s only banter in invisible art. In 1958, at the Iris Clert gallery in Paris, the artist mounted an exhibition entitled “Le Vide”. When some 3,000 visitors arrived for the opening, they were greeted with a vacant hall.
On a more contemporary note, last year the Italian Artist Salvatore Garau has gone viral after selling an “immaterial sculpture” – that is, nothing – for €15,000 ($18,300).
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