I had been looking forward to see Yves Klein’s Blue at the Guggenheim during our overseas visit in December. I had been talking about it so much that even Willem got excited about it.

It was not what I was expecting.


For a start, the museum’s permanent collection was not on display. Rather, they were showcasing a group of artists, Zero, whose mandate was to take the Artist out of Art-making, as a reaction to the post-war Expressionists. Yves Klein was one of the artists. On display was an installation of his blue pigment, scattered like moon rocks on the floor. We were able to lean over the barrier and bend forward, and it felt like one could drown in this blue, the colour stretching beyond the peripheral vision, all-encompassing. I found it an incredible experience. The idea is that the blue pigment is “fixed” by the purest fixative – not oil, not egg, not glue, but using gravity, a natural force that the other fixatives actually try to subvert when we hang our paintings on walls.


Untitled blue monochrome (IKB 82)

Yves Klein

Dry pigment in synthetic resin on canvas, mounted on board

92.1 x 71.8 cm


But this was not the most awe-inspiring work we saw at the Guggenheim.

See, one of our most accomplished local artists, Diane Victor, had perfected a technique known as smoke drawings. She draws portraits of missing children, using soot from a candle flame without scorching or burning the paper. The missing children become ephemeral ghosts in these haunting images – and when you are confronted with a wall packed with these staring faces, you can’t help wondering what happened to these children, where these bodies are now after being raped and abandoned?


Missing Children

Diane Victor

Soot on Paper


And we always marvel at this  – mark making with smoke! Genius.



Jef Verheyen

Soot on Paper

70 × 53.5 cm


So I was surprised to see that it was Otto Peine who first made marks with smoke, followed by other members of Zero. Ms Victor took the concept to the next level and perfected the technique.

But the first experiments with this occurred in the 1960s.


Venus of Willendorf (Venus von Willendorf)

Otto Piene

Oil and soot on canvas

150 × 200 cm


And Yves Klein created this next image by pressing wet women against the fibreboard before attacking it with a flamethrower (the same weapon they were using in the Vietnam War at the time). These ghost women pulled my eye even when I was on the other side of the ramp, and in a way, seeing them across the chasm of the Guggenheim museum was even more meaningful.


Untitled Fire Painting (F 81)

Yves Klein

Charred laminated fibreboard

130.2 × 250.2 cm


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