Yves Klein, Harry Shunk and János Kender - Photographs London Tuesday, November 23, 2021 | Phillips
  • 'Let us be honest, to paint space, I must be in position, I must be in space.' Yves Klein

    Created in 1960, Leap into the Void stands as a definitive artistic statement and a technical tour-de-force by three collaborators: the genre-defying artist Yves Klein (1928-1962) and photographers Harry Shunk (1924-2006) and János Kender (1937-2009). The remarkable spectacle of Klein vaulting into space has lost none of its impact in the ensuing decades, and the photograph embodies the inventiveness, physicality, and humour present in Klein’s best work. With their technical expertise and deep understanding of Klein’s exuberant artistic practice, Shunk and Kender were the ideal agents to launch the artist into the ether. With characteristic wit, Klein described his motivation for Leap into the Void thusly:  'I am the painter of space. I am not an abstract painter but, on the contrary, a figurative artist, and a realist. Let us be honest, to paint space, I must be in position, I must be in space.'


    The photograph offered here came originally from the collection of one of its creators: Harry Shunk. The present owner approached Shunk in 1998 about acquiring an early print of Leap into the Void. Shunk replied that he owned only three such prints of the image and was saving them for a hoped-for museum exhibition. Several years later, the present owner acquired this print from Fahey/Klein Gallery who had it on consignment from Shunk, and where it was featured in the Photographs We Know: Iconic Images exhibition in late 2001 and early 2002.


    Throughout his career, Klein worked in close partnership with photographers to document his work and his artistic process. Klein was a born showman with mystical aspirations, a judo master and a believer in levitation, and there was a performative nature to the creation of his work. Some of Klein’s artistic endeavours were sufficiently ephemeral to require photographic documentation to provide the only record of the work. In 1957, Klein’s exhibition at Galerie Iris Clert consisted of the release of 1000 helium filled balloons. In 1958, his exhibition entitled The Void consisted of an emptied gallery entirely devoid of works of art. His Anthropométries, in which nude women served as human ‘paintbrushes’ applying Klein’s signature blue pigment onto large canvases, are better understood through the photographs of their creation. No other painter of his generation had as shrewd an understanding of photography’s ability to amplify his work, and he made the medium an integral component of his creative process. This is nowhere more apparent than in Leap into the Void.


    Klein chose the photographers Harry Shunk and János Kender as collaborators on Leap into the Void. The two photographers built their reputation photographing artists and had previously documented the creation of Klein’s Anthropométries. To create Leap, Shunk and Kender took a series of photographs of a quiet street in the Parisian suburb of Fontenay-aux-Roses. Klein then made a sequence of jumps from the roof, landing safely in a tarp held by nine friends on the street below, while Shunk and Kender captured each leap on film. Once the film was developed, Shunk and Kender employed an impressive array of darkroom techniques to blend two negatives together: one showing Klein in flight, and the other showing the empty street. In the finished image, the two negatives are seamlessly fused, with no tell-tale signs of where or how they are joined. Leap into the Void is the perfect marriage of concept and technique, and is the definitive record of Klein in action.


    Yves Klein, Dimanche – Le journal d’un seul jour, 1960.
    Yves Klein, Dimanche – Le journal d’un seul jour, 1960.

    A month after the photograph was created, Klein published it on the front page of a faux newspaper entitled Dimanche—Le journal d’un seul jour, styled after the actual newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche. The picture appeared under the headline ‘Un Homme Dans L'Espace!' (A Man in Space) and was captioned ‘Le peintre de l’espace se jette dans le vide!’ (The painter of space throws himself into the void), language which slyly referenced the ongoing space race between the United States and the Soviet Union which was frequently front-page news at the time. Klein distributed his paper to newsstands throughout Paris during the Festival d’Art d’Avant-Garde where it took its place alongside the day’s genuine newspapers, presenting a front page that was entirely plausible at first glance, but whose transcendent artistic truth became clear only upon closer inspection.  
    Harry Shunk was born in Germany and later relocated to Paris where he met the Hungarian János Kender. From 1958 to 1973 they worked as Shunk-Kender, embedding themselves in the artworld, photographing artists, performances, and ‘happenings’, forming one of the great photographic records of the creative life of the latter 20th century. In addition to Klein, Shunk-Kender photographed Vito Acconci, Joseph Beuys, Lee Bontecou, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Lucio Fontana, Jasper Johns, Donald Judd, Yayoi Kusama, Bruce Nauman, Nam June Paik, Robert Rauschenberg, Niki de Saint Phalle, and Jean Tinguely, among many others. Because the photographers primarily produced photographs for publication and not the fine-art photography market, their work is quite rare. After Shunk’s death in 2006 the entirety of his archives, including the vast output of Shunk-Kender, was acquired by the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation who donated portions to the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C.; the Centre Pompidou, Paris; and the Tate, London. In 2015, MoMA mounted a retrospective of the duo’s work, Art on Camera: Photographs by Shunk-Kender, 1960–1971.  


    Other prints of this image are in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo.  

    • Provenance

      Collection of Harry Shunk
      Fahey/Klein Gallery, Los Angeles, 2001

    • Exhibited

      Photographs We Know: Iconic Images, Fahey/Klein Gallery, Los Angeles, 6 December 2001 – 16 February 2002, this lot

      The Lens and the Mirror, Part 2: Self-Portraits from the Collection, 1957-2000, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 3 August - 29 November 2009, another
      Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 11 February - 31 May 2010; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., 23 October 2010 - 13 February 2011, another
      Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 10 October 2012 - 27 January 2013; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 17 February - 5 May 2013; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 2 June 2013 - 25 August 2013, another
      Art on Camera: Photographs by Shunk-Kender, 1960-1971, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 17 May - 4 October 2015

    • Literature

      P. Restany, Yves Klein, Paris: Chene, 1982, p. 184
      D. de Menil & J-Y Mock, Yves Klein 1928-1962: A Retrospective, Houston: Institute for the Arts, Rice University; New York: The Arts Publisher, 1982, p. 63
      D. Bozo, Yves Klein, Paris: Centre Georges Pompidou, 1983, p. 358
      S. Stitch, Yves Klein, Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 1994, p. 216
      D. Fogle et al., The Last Picture Show: Artists Using Photography 1960-1982, Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, 2003, p. 9
      C. Morineau, Yves Klein: Corps, couleur, immatériel, Paris: Centre Georges Pompidou, 2006, p. 53
      M. Copeland, Voids: A Retrospective, Zurich: 2009, cover (variant)
      B. Corà & Daniel Moquay, Yves Klein, Lugano: Museo d'Arte, 2009, cover, pp. 112-113
      F. Prot & P. Smith, Yves Klein: Incandescence, Milan: 5 Continents, 2012, p. 198
      M. Fineman et al., Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop, New York: The Met, 2012, pl. 188, pp. 182, 252
      Q. Bajac et al., Photography at MoMA: 1960 to Now, New York: MoMA, 2015, p. 156
      J. Dibbets, Pandora's Box: Jan Dibbets on Another Photography, Paris: Paris Musées, 2016, p. 160
      M. Koddenberg, Yves Klein: In/Out Studio, Dortmund: Kettler, 2016, p. 176
      S. Baker & F. Moran, Performing for the Camera, London: Tate, 2016, p. 10
      M. Hollein, Modern and Contemporary Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: The Met, 2019, p. 110



Saut dans le Vide [Leap Into the Void], Paris

October 1960
Gelatin silver print, mounted, probably printed 1960s.
Image/Sheet: 36 x 27.5 cm (14 1/8 x 10 7/8 in.)
Frame: 54 x 43.7 cm (21 1/4 x 17 1/4 in.)

Signed by Harry Shunk in ink, printed credit, title, date and location '"Saut dans le vide" Fontenay-aux-Roses 23 Octobre 1960 Photo: Harry Shunk' on a label affixed to the reverse of the mount.

This work is one of only two early prints of this image in this size to appear at auction since 2002. Early examples of Leap into the Void are rare.

Full Cataloguing

£40,000 - 60,000 ‡♠

Sold for £69,300

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London Auction 23 November 2021