One of the last surviving receipts that Yves Klein issued to collectors as part of a storied 1959 performance in which the French artist sold off pieces of empty space is headed to sale. The piece of paper, which granted ownership to only a few buyers of Klein’s invisible art piece, will be auctioned during a single-owner sale at Sotheby’s in Paris on April.
The sale will mark the first time that one of the receipts produced as part of the performance, titled Zone de sensibilité picturale immatérielle (Zone of Immaterial Pictorial Sensibility), will be offered at auction. It is expected to fetch a price between €300,000–€500,000 ($331,000–$552,000).
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Known for minting a new shade of blue that is named after him, Klein became famous for testing art world norms in the 1950s up until his death in 1962.
As part of the performance piece from which the present lot derives, Klein sold “zones” of empty space to buyers in exchange for gold. He gave buyers the option of destroying documents of the sale—they could either burn the receipt showing that the sale took place or opt for him to throw the gold into the Seine in Northern France. As part of the rules Klein designated for the performance, he stipulated that the gold exchanged during these sales could at any point be discarded into another body of water where it “cannot be retrieved by any one.”
“The void was a subject that has always haunted him,” said Sotheby’s head of contemporary art in France, Guillaume Mallecot, calling the project that allowed the artist to effectively sell voided space, as a “milestone” in 20th century art history.
The present lot is one of only a few receipts from the project still known to exist. According to historian Denys Riout, there are four receipts surviving from Klein’s empty space sales made between 1959 and 1962. The lot comes from the holdings of art advisor and curator Loïc Malle, who bought it 35 years ago. It is the receipt that is most widely exhibited, having been shown in exhibitions at the Reina Sofia in Madrid and the Centre Pompidou in Paris.
Before it passed into’s Malle’s hands, it was purchased by French art dealer Jacques Kugel, one of just a few buyers who participated in Klein’s performance. While some of Klein’s buyers chose one of the two options to destroy evidence of the sale in order to “complete” the piece, Kugel held onto the receipt. In exchange, Klein kept the gold and used it as material for his later “Monogolds”series of gold-leaf panels.
In its announcement, Sotheby’s drew connections between the Klein receipt and the rise of NFTs—a trend that has brought with it challenges to norms around ownership, echoing themes that conceptual artists like Klein have long dealt with. The house is accepting cryptocurrency, which a Sotheby’s spokesperson called “a precursor” to digital art, as an alternate form of payment for the lot. Citing Klein as an example in Art in America, Anuradha Vikram wrote that, “long before NFTs, many artists used alternative financial instruments.”