Yves Klein was a French artist considered an important figure in post-war European art. He is the leading member of the French artistic movement of Nouveau réalisme founded in 1960 by art critic Pierre Restany. Klein was a pioneer in the development of Performance art, and is seen as an inspiration to and as a forerunner of Minimal art, as well as Pop art.
Klein was born in Nice from artists parents. His father painted in a loose Post-impressionist style, while his mother was a leading figure in Art informel. From 1942 to 1946, Yves Klein studied at the École Nationale de la Marine Marchande and the École Nationale des Langues Orientales.
In his youth, he became friends with Arman and Claude Pascal and started to paint. All together they had a discussion where they divided the world between themselves; Arman chose the earth, Claude, words, while Yves chose the ethereal space surrounding the planet, which he then proceeded to sign: with this famous symbolic gesture of signing the sky, Klein had foreseen, as in a reverie, the thrust of his art from that time onwards—a quest to reach the far side of the infinite.
Between 1947 and 1948, Klein conceived his Monotone Symphony that consisted of a single 20-minute sustained chord followed by a 20-minute silence – a precedent to both La Monte Young's drone music and John Cage's 4′33″. During the years 1948 to 1952, he traveled to Italy, Great Britain, Spain, and Japan. In Japan, at the early age of 25, he became a master at judo receiving the rank of yodan (4th dan/degree black-belt), which at that time was a remarkable achievement for a westerner. In 1954, Klein settled permanently in Paris and began in earnest to establish himself in the art world.
The critic Pierre Restany, founded the Nouveau Réalisme group in Klein's apartment on 27 October 1960. Founding members were Arman, Francois Dufrêne, Raymond Hains, Yves Klein, Martial Raysse, Daniel Spoerri, Jean Tinguely, and Jacques Villeglé, with Niki de Saint Phalle, Christo and Gérard Deschamps joining later. Normally seen as a French version of Pop Art, the aim of the group was stated as 'New Realism=New Perceptual Approaches To The Real'.
He suffered a heart attack while watching the film Mondo Cane (in which he is featured) at the Cannes Film Festival on 11 May 1962. Two more heart attacks followed, the second of which killed him on 6 June 1962.