Yves Klein, at his very bluest

As a painting that scandalised Paris comes up for sale, Arifa Akbar speaks to the gallerist who made it happen

It was a musical performance with a twist that sent tremors across the art world when it was staged in 1960. An artist wearing white gloves and a tuxedo emerged from behind a screen to conduct an orchestra in front of a tastefully dressed Parisian audience at the Rive Droite art gallery. As he did so, numerous naked women sashayed out carrying pots of blue paint. The paint – a shade that would later be immortalised as an Yves Klein blue – was smeared by the models on to their naked breasts, pubic area and the length of their torsos.

Some of these women got down on the floor and began writhing their bodies in puddles of blue paint before, as "living paint-brushes", pressing themselves against a blank canvas to create a series of artworks.

This performance, resembling an avant-garde mud-wrestling session and culminating in the dramatic strains of the orchestra's "Monotone Symphony" (a single 20-minute sustained chord followed by a 20-minute silence) was meticulously orchestrated by Yves Klein, the French artist who scandalised bourgeois society with his bright idea and who has since come to be known as the god-father of conceptual art.

The paintings that emerged from this performance – and another one like it – have since become some of the most sought-after contemporary artworks of the age. Last month, one such canvas, "Ant 5", was sold by at auction for £4m, nearly £3m above its estimated price. And Christie's is to sell another, "Le Buffle", in New York in May. It is estimated to fetch $10m.

The wider art world outside Paris's Left Bank bohemia may never have seen this performance had Klein not enlisted the Swiss gallerist, Georges Marci, to film everything. Ms Marci, now in her 70s, told The Independent how it all happened.

A year befor the show, she was in her early twenties and running the Rive Droite Gallery in Paris when Klein, came in, said he had fallen out with his gallery, the Iris Clert, which was opposite, and now wanted to be represented by Ms Marci. By the time the show was staged – and tightly controlled by the flamboyant painter – they had become firm friends.

"The scene was really thrilling because he directed the girls who were models to move in certain directions on the paper which was spread out on the floor," she said. "They applied the paint themselves, but the rhythm with which they moved was dictated by Yves Klein. The women were completely directed and under the spell of the eye, movement and words of Yves Klein. Before the performance there was a rehearsal with the same models but no paint and no music. Yves Klein indicated their precise choreography so there could be no mistake."

After the event, Klein said: "I personally would never attempt to smear paint over my own body and become a living brush; on the contrary, I would rather put on my tuxedo and wear white gloves. I would not even think of dirtying my hands with paint. Detached and distant, the work of art must complete itself before my eyes and under my command."

Klein and Ms Marci had placed adverts in various French newspapers asking for women to come forward for theproject. Response came from many professional models who were "very young, and enthusiastic about working as human paintbrushes", said Ms Marci. (Some of the naked models are still alive. One, the inspiration for "Ant 4", is in her seventies, and said to be a yoga instructor in Holland.)

Klein's more prudish contemporaries condemned his show as salacious, but Klein's experience living in Japan, witnessing the human tragedy in the aftermath of the Second World War, had led him to incorporate the human body in his artwork. During the 1950s, in Hiroshima, he was overcome at the sight of the imprint of a body on a wall, left by the first of the two atomic explosions that would end the war.

"He felt that a person can die physically but his spirit can live on indefinitely and cannot be erased," Ms Marci said. "Klein was a very spiritual person and was deeply moved. This is possibly the birth of the idea of the human paintbrush."

In spite of the electrifying atmosphere, Ms Marci said she was not tempted to become one of Klein's subjects. "Given the circumstances of being his worldwide representative, it would not have been appropriate for me to be a living paintbrush. It was completely energy- and time-consuming just trying to cope and digest the tremendous creativity of his various projects and help him realise his ideas."

Francis Outred, the head of Christie's postwar and contemporary art in Europe, said: "His whole artistic premise shocked Paris. He's now seen as the godfather of conceptual art. We would not have had Andy Warhol, or Jeff Koons, or Damien Hirst, without him. He presented the poetry of the idea as the basis of his art. If you watch [the show], there's a glint in [Klein's]eye. He understood the wit in it as well as being a pioneer of a new way of making art."

Even today, Ms Marci's film has a healthy number of hits on YouTube. One comment reads: "A bunch of white men in suits watching nude women doing stuff. Art, at its finest."

Bodies of work: Artists and nudity

*Ron Mueck uses silicone and human hair to produce hyperrealist sculptures of the human body.

*Spencer Tunick has taken photographs of mass gatherings of nude people al over the world.

*Marcus Harvey's portrait of moors murderer Myra Hindley was created using children's hand prints.

*Anthony Gormley used his own body as a cast in several works.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week