And if the precursor of the NFT was… the French artist Yves Klein?

The 2020s are marked by the rise of crypto art and NFTs. That said, lovers of immaterial works haven’t invented anything. In the 1950s, Yves Klein imagined a project that would make NFT neophytes green with envy.

In April 1958, the artist presented a new exhibition in Paris. The Iris Clert gallery did not present the famous blue monochromes of the painter but an empty space. Finally, empty, it is quickly said. The place was physically empty but conceptually loaded. Filled with emptiness, one might say, or at least, filled with meaning.

Appropriate the vacuum for 20 grams of gold

With his “Exposition du vide” (i.e. “The specialization of sensitivity in the raw material state in stabilized pictorial sensitivity”), Yves Klein explained that he wanted “to create, establish and present to the public a pictorial sensible state within the confines of an ordinary painting showroom”.

During a conference organized at the Sorbonne in June 1959, Yves Klein explained that he wanted “create an atmosphere, an invisible but present pictorial climate”. This “pictorial state invisible in the space of the gallery”this “immaterialization of the painting” acted according to him “much more efficient” on the audience “than the usual visible, ordinary and representative paintings”.

Pushing his idea further, Yves Klein decided to sell empty pieces of his empty exhibition. To make these sales of immaterial works a reality, he issued guarantee stamps. Versus “20 grams of fine gold”collectors and collectors could become owners of a “area of ​​immaterial pictorial sensitivity”.


At the bottom of the receipts, a note specifies that each zone “can only be sold by its owner at double its initial purchase value”. Although this mention ensures an indefinitely rising rating for the works, Yves Klein did not want these receipts to play the game of rounds of incessant sales. In order for buyers to become the “definitive owners” receipts, and therefore areas, he advised them to burn them, underlines the Smithsonian Magazine.

Not everyone respected this wish or followed the artist when he poured half of his payments into the Seine and burned the receipts in the company of the owners. The collector Jacques Kugel thus always refused to burn his piece of paper acquired in December 1959 and ended up selling it to the gallery owner Loic Malle.

Emptiness that gains value

Recently, Loïc Malle sold his receipt at auction for more than a million euros. The Sotheby’s housewho organized the sale, notes that “the transfer of a zone of sensitivity and the invention of receipts” can be considered forms of[ancêtres] NFTs”. “If we add the fact that Klein kept a register of the successive owners of the ‘zones’, it is easy to find there another revolutionary concept, that of the blockchain.”

More concretely, Yves Klein has inspired artists to imagine invisible works. At the end of May 2021, Salvatore Garau sold his invisible sculpture entitled Io Sono (I am) €15,000. The American artist Tom Miller then threatened the latter to sue him, claiming to be at the origin of the concept of “sculpture of nothing”. A statement that would no doubt have made Yves Klein laugh, sixty years after his death, he who would have affirmedshortly before dying: “I will enter the largest workshop in the world. And I will only make immaterial works there.”

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And if the precursor of the NFT was… the French artist Yves Klein?

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