Yves Klein had two shows in 1957 titled Proposte monocrome (Monochrome Proposition): the first was in January at Galerie Apollinaire in Milan [above], the second in October at Galerie Iris Clert in Paris.
In each case, Klein presented a group of eleven blue monochrome paintings of identical size, production, and appearance, but with different prices. Klein argued that despite initial appearances, each painting was in fact quite different:
Each painting's blue world, although all of the same color blue and treated in the same way, revealed itself to be of an entirely different essence and atmosphere; none resembled the other, not anymore than pictorial moments and poetic moments can resemble one another.And the prices proved it.
The most sensational observation was that of the buyers. Each selected the one that pleased them the most among the displayed paintings, and paid its price. The prices were all different, of course.These quotes are from a 1959 lecture Klein gave at the Sorbonne, which was released as a limited edition LP. Klein delivers the last sentence like a punchline, "Et les prix sont tous differents, bien sur," is followed by applause, gasps, and laughter. [It's in the first 2:00 on this ubu mp3 excerpt.]
Klein's Monochrome Propositions were intended as a spiritually enlightening alternative to the polychrome world, a gateway to the mystical energies of the universe. And the pricing, Sotheby's argued, was "an audacious ploy that demonstrates Klein's ingenious handling and overcoming of the disjuncture between art and commerce."
I have never been able to reconcile these two aspects of Klein's early monochrome shows. Until now.
While searching through thousands of eBay test listings, I found an eBay test store that followed Klein's strategy. The same monochrome image was used for two dozen separate items--which all had different prices. The only problem was that there could be no buyers with no items for sale. I have solved this by making prints of nine images available at eight different prices.
And now I understand the Monochrome's Retail Proposition. The visual cacophony of a typical eBay search result is replaced by soothing uniformity. In this Kleinian spiritual paradise, I am left free to focus on the differences, both those I imagine, like shading variations in the jpgs, and those of price. My decisions fall away, all I need to think about is the essence of the transaction: to decide how much I want to spend.
Untitled (Test Test Test Item 16 --DO NOT BUY, NO ITEM FOR SALE), 2015
5x7 in. digital inkjet print
signed and numbered from an edition of 15 plus 2 aps
with price and shipping terms set in the original test listing:
Sound familiar? You can try it at home: Why spend $50 when there's an identical one for $25? But the "freight shipping" is more than the photo itself. Oh, I might buy a photo, if they weren't so cheap. It really is whichever one pleases you most.