Basements, babes and blue

It’s not every week we salute a true artist in the pages of this here Oswegonian. Usually we’re too busy paying homage to the puck-slapper of the week or running stories about the newest strange animal in Oswego County. (By the way, someone should talk to the reporter on those animal stories; it’s getting a little weird. I’m just saying).

Well not this week. This week we take our dose of culture.

The first artist I want to single out for recognition is Yves Klein. Mr. Klein was a true American. (Small complication here, he was actually French, but let’s pretend). He was American in his state of mind. When postmodern art came knocking on the door, his first inclination wasn’t to waive the white flag and bake another croissant. Instead, he stood up and did what had to be done. He reinvented the nude (and I’m willing to bet only half of that was business, if you know what I mean.)

It was a time when Picasso was painting guitars from angles that Superbowl instant replay hasn’t yet discovered, and when Jackson Pollock stumbled out of bed after a hard weekend and called the stuff he knocked over on the way to the watercloset art. Duchamp didn’t even bother; he just called the watercloset art. Klein dared to be different.

One warm night in 1960, Klein decided to put on a show. So he cleared out a basement and went to work. First thing he did was purchase an orchestra. But did he have them play classical music or the same old repertoire? No, that would have been too easy.

Klein commanded his orchestra, string section and all, to play a piece he had written in 1949 entitled "The Monotone Symphony." For those of you unfamiliar with the composition, it is 20 minutes of a single, sustained note followed immediately by 20 minutes of replete and utter silence. So stick that in your pipe and smoke it Kenny G., because Klein was there first (P.S. if it ends on silence, how did everyone know when the piece was over? I always wondered about that part).

The next thing he did was break out the blue paint. You see, Yves was more than a little obsessed with blue. He said it reflected what he really felt about life and the universe; that transcendence involved blue. He was so in love with the color blue, and so specific about what shade he used that he invented his own hue; it was called International Klein Blue, or IKB.

If you’re keeping up with all of this, we now have a basement, an orchestra and blue paint. The last ingredient, as you may have guessed, is gorgeous models. Every one of them was the typical standard of physical perfection. So old Yves takes these models and lubes up the front of their naked bodies in IKB paint, then he has them press against a canvas in order to get an imprint of the body. He called the imprints "anthropometries," or measurements of the body.

The results are beautiful, visually stunning and a tad haunting when you consider their origin and the vastness of time. There are great videos of the whole thing on YouTube. You should check it out. Oh, did I forget to mention that he invited an audience to watch the whole thing?

This year is the 50th anniversary of the performance. It’s been five long decades since a man in a basement with an orchestra changed the direction of art as we know it. And this week, to commemorate the occasion, seven of my friends and I recreated the scene.

This week my friends and I paid homage to the great Klein by casting off robes, applying some of that washable paint you remember from kindergarten, and stepping back to time when that was on the cutting edge.

After all, when America becomes the kind of place where you can’t nakedly press your blue-colored body against a sheet and expect the community to worship the resultant thing as art, I’m not sure we’re a country worth saving. When they take that away from us, what freedoms are left?

Strike a blow for freedom, and allow life to imitate art at least once this week. And if you see blue people striding proudly around campus this week, expressions proud and heads held high, you’ll know why that is. Don’t be afraid to say hi, and if you’re bold enough, join in the celebration.

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