David Campany, Curator at Large at the International Center of Photography presents the expansive work of William Klein, ahead of his major retrospective exhibition William Klein: YES!
The YES! exhibition, which showcased the work of photographer and artist William Klein, was a fascinating exploration of his life and career. The exhibition spanned more than six decades of Klein’s work, featuring photographs, paintings, films, and other works that demonstrated the breadth and depth of his artistic vision.
The exhibition was curated by Klein himself and featured more than 300 works, including vintage prints of his iconic New York street photography, as well as images from his travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa. In addition to his photographs, the exhibition also showcased Klein’s innovative films, including his groundbreaking documentaries on the worlds of fashion and boxing.
One of the most striking aspects of the exhibition was the way that Klein’s work transcended traditional boundaries between photography, painting, and other media. Klein’s photographs were often marked by their dynamic compositions, bold use of color, and unconventional techniques, such as blurring or distorting the image. These techniques reflected Klein’s desire to break free from traditional modes of representation and to capture the energy and vitality of the world around him.
The exhibition also highlighted Klein’s exploration of social and political themes in his work, from his photographs of the civil rights movement in the United States to his images of protest and unrest in Paris in 1968. Klein’s images were often marked by their sharp critique of the status quo and his willingness to challenge established power structures and societal norms.
In addition to his photographs, the YES! exhibition also featured a selection of Klein’s paintings, which demonstrated his experimentation with abstraction and color. These works reflected Klein’s interest in the avant-garde movements of the 20th century and his desire to push the boundaries of what was considered “acceptable” in the art world.
Perhaps one of the most compelling aspects of the YES! exhibition was the way that it showcased the evolution of Klein’s artistic vision over time. From his early work as a fashion photographer in the 1950s to his more recent paintings and installations, Klein’s work was marked by its constant experimentation and innovation. His willingness to take risks and push boundaries made him one of the most influential artists of the 20th century and a source of inspiration for generations of photographers and artists.
The YES! exhibition was praised by art critics and academics for its depth and breadth and its ability to showcase the many facets of Klein’s artistic vision. Writing for The Guardian, critic Sean O’Hagan noted that the exhibition “revealed the breadth and depth of Klein’s artistic vision and highlighted his ongoing influence on contemporary photography and art.”
Similarly, in her review for The New York Times, critic Holland Cotter praised the exhibition for its “electric energy,” noting that it “captured the boundless curiosity and creative ambition of one of the most important artists of the 20th century.”