The Tate Modern in Bluets by Maggie Nelson

PHOTO CREDIT: Hans Peter Schaefer. This photo is licensed under the the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 Unported license.

“78. Once I traveled to the Tate in London to see the blue paintings of Yves Klein, who invented and patented his own shade of ultramarine, International Klein Blue (IKB), then painted canvases and objects with it throughout a period of his life he dubbed “l’epoque bleue.” Standing in front of these blue paintings, or propositions, at the Tate, feeling their blue radiate out so hotly that it seemed to be touching, perhaps even hurting, my eyeballs, I wrote but one phrase in my notebook: too much.”1

As with a field of bluets, Maggie Nelson’s whimsical yet poignant lyric essay of the same title is an expanse of delicate blue. Leading her reader through blue with 240 reflections on color, lost love, Joni Mitchell, art, and memory, Nelson dusts her readers with words as well as pigment. While collecting blue in what she describes as “blue reports from the field,” Nelson is taken to the Tate Modern in London in the above excerpt. She writes only briefly about her time in the Tate looking at the International Klein Blue, but one has to wonder if in writing a 99-page love letter for blue, Maggie Nelson attempts to patent her own shade.

The Tate Modern is a modern art museum located on the south bank of the river Thames in London, England. Opened only in the year 2000, it is the most visited modern art museum in the world and one of the top 3 tourist attractions in the UK2. IKB 79 is one of 194 monochrome paintings which Yves Klein produced from 1947 until his death in 1962. Purchased by the Tate in 1972, IKB 79 has been on displayed at the Tate Gallery (now Tate Britain), but Nelson most likely viewed it at the Tate Modern in the early 2000s.

IKB 191 by Yves Klein. Public domain.
IKB 191 by Yves Klein. Public domain.

Read more about the Tate Modern and International Klein Blue on Wikipedia. Find Maggie Nelson’s Bluets at a local library or on Amazon.

1Nelson, Maggie. Bluets. Seattle: Wave, 2009. 30. Print.

2“History of Tate.” Tate. Tate, n.d. Web. 17 July 2014.

Laura studies English and French at ASU where she teaches English 102 and founded ASU’s Spoken Plurals Poetry Society. She currently lives and studies in Lyon, France. See what else she has to say at Tampered Timshel and Hard English.

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