Had he not died of a heart attack at age 34, Yves Klein would have turned 90 this year. In celebration of this would-be milestone, Blenheim Palace in the UK is currently exhibiting more than 50 Klein works, including multiple pieces made with International Klein Blue (IKB), the eponymous paint Klein developed in 1960. At the time of its creation, IKB was considered by some artists and critics to be an outrage—how, after all, could one artist be so arrogant as to lay personal claim to a color? Others, however, saw Klein as a genius—a predecessor of the time we live in now, when even the most minute and irrelevant intellectual property is jealously guarded. Even today there is much debate on this issue, although that debate is largely fed by a fundamental misunderstanding about what IKB actually is, and what Klein did to lay claim to it. One misunderstanding is the belief that IKB was a new color. It was not. It was a new medium for conveying an existing color. The other misunderstanding was that Klein patented IKB, thereby claiming ownership of it in the eyes of the law. He did not. Klein only registered IKB by way of a Soleau envelope, the official French method of establishing when someone first had the idea for something. The sender of a Soleau envelope makes two copies of a description of an idea. One copy is mailed to the office that registers intellectual property, and the other copy is retained by the registrant. The Soleau envelope that Klein mailed to the French government to register IKB was accidentally destroyed, so it is only by the copy he retained that we can confirm IKB was ever registered at all. Regardless, a Soleau envelope does not imply ownership. It only establishes the time, and the instigator, of an inventive achievement. And the invention of IKB was, indeed, inventive. In fact, its origin story helps explain why Klein was one of the most influential artists of his generation.
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Yves Klein was a French painter and an important figure in post-war European art.