In our modern, digital-consumerist society, we are no strangers to paying for…well, nothing. Fleeting online experiences that amount to singular serotonin boosts (hopefully), shiny costumes for digital avatars, or the ability to let people know that a particular .JPEG really and truly belongs to us. But quite possibly the epitome of humanity’s absurdity and the fine line of modern art is seen in work like Yves Klein’s Zone of Immaterial Pictorial Sensibility— which a receipt for just sold at $1.2 million.
Yves Klein—the French pioneer of Nouveau réalisme whose namesake of International Klein Blue was central to his creative practice—conducted the performance and sale of Zone of Immaterial Pictorial Sensibility from 1959 till his death in 1962. Truly ringing more of ritualism than materialism in its transactional nature, Klein would offer empty zones of space to collectors, giving them a receipt in exchange, and finishing the procedure by having the recipient burn the receipt before art world witnesses to verify the claim as he would dump half of the gold he gained from the sale into the Seine river. The endeavour is now considered an early advent of conceptual art.
Klein was not the only artist to see empty spaces—voids, negative space, absence—as their own form of artwork. Andy Warhol famously displayed his Invisible Sculpture in the legendary nightclub Area, where he stood on a pedestal for a short while before exiting, a writeup explaining that his aura would remain. Countless contemporary artists have done the same, including Italian artist Salvatore Garau’s “immaterial sculpture” Io sono which sold last year for $18,300.
This receipt from Zone of Immaterial Pictorial Sensibility, which sold at a Sotheby’s auction in Paris to a private collector for $1.2 million this past month, belonged to Jacques Kugel—the original buyer of a zone who refused to burn the receipt in this ritual, giving the receipt increasing value over the years. With its focus on the assertion of authenticity from the sheer self-knowledge of the “owner” as well as those officials involved in the process, it’s no surprise that it is being likened to the current nature of NFTs.
Zone of Immaterial Pictorial Sensibility was something novel at its time—Yves Klein tapped into the very essence of monetary transactions, the art world, and the concept of ownership. It was filled with satirical energy as well as the odd sanctity of ritual, and its echoes are still visible in the conceptual art world. But somewhere down the line, it feels as if the actual thought behind this has been lost, and that what is important about the piece is the ownership.