Life Philosophy

Leap into the Void


Helen caught the Yves Klein exhibition at the Hirshhorn when she was in DC earlier in the week. I have always enjoyed his iconoclasm, of which a good example is this photograph, taken by Harry Shunk, of Klein leaping off a building, to the indifference of a passing bicyclist. Well, obviously not quite so straightforward:

In October 1960, the American photographer Harry Shunk made a series of pictures re-creating a jump from a second-floor window that the artist claimed to have executed earlier in the year; the figure and the surrounding scene were then collaged together and rephotographed to create its “documentary” appearance.

[Source: Yves Klein, Harry Shunk, Janos Kender: Leap into the Void (1992.5112) | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art

OK, so far so good. But how did they re-create the jump?

The site where the event took place, in Fontenay-des-Roses, was chosen because it was next-door to a judo club, many of the members of which were known to Klein.

Twelve of these judokas were persuaded to hold a tarpaulin beneath him and to catch his body as he leapt into space a number of times, to ensure that the camera caught him in the position that he wished to record. Once the picture had been taken, the judokas were removed in the darkroom and replaced with the neutral image of the street with solitary cyclist.


The original inspiration for the image was a jump Klein claimed to have made at his apartment in which he believed he had truly levitated. The plan had been for his friend, the critic Pierre Restany, to witness the event, but he was delayed and arrived too late:

“When I got there,” Restany later recalled, “Yves was in a kind of mystical ecstasy. He truly seemed to have accomplished some prodigious physical feat. He said to me, ‘You have just missed one of the most important events of your life’.

However, Restany also recalled:

He was limping slightly from a twisted ankle.


To his annoyance, Klein failed to convince any of his friends regarding his original ‘leap’, and one or two later attempts he made in public only served to encourage further scepticism; leaping down a stairwell at the Rive Droite Gallery he succeeded only in damaging his shoulder.

But, I think, the power and élan of the image remains intact.

Sadly, less than two years after the photograph, on 6 June 1962, he died of a massive heart attack, aged just thirty-four.

By westrow

Westrow is an SEO content marketing writer. When he’s not helping businesses land more customers with strategic content, he can often be found reading, walking the dog, or swimming.

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