As the fashion world continues to mourn the loss of legendary designer Karl LagerfeldKarl Lagerfeld, the contemporary art world is remembering him as both a cultural icon and in his lesser-known capacity as a fine art photographer. The Zürich-based Galerie Gmurzynska, which has shown Lagerfeld’s photography since 1996, began planning to mount an impromptu retrospective of the artist’s work as soon as they received news of his death a week ago in Paris, at the age of 85.
French media first reported his death on Tuesday morning, February 19, and celebrities around the world were quick to take to social media to express sympathy for the loss of one of the fashion world’s most influential forces. He was best known as the creative director of Chanel, the fashion house he reinvented, and also served as creative director of Fendi and founder of his own eponymous label. Bernard Arnault, the billionaire art collector and chairman of LVMH, which owns Fendi, called him a creative genius, noting his encyclopedic knowledge of culture.
A creative polymath, Lagerfeld was affectionately known as the “Kaiser” because of his German roots, but he has long been associated with France. Born in Hamburg in 1933, Lagerfeld began drawing at an early age and was obsessed with all things France, especially French painters. He took up photography in 1987, starting off by photographing his own designs and later exhibiting his monochrome landscapes and moody portraits in black and white, the same palette he seized on for his signature look. Lagerfeld never strayed from his personal uniform: a black suit, shades, and a perfect white shirt pulled together with a tie. His white hair was always neatly pulled back in a ponytail.
Lagerfeld’s final catwalk appearance was last December, when he brought Chanel’s globetrotting fashion show to the Temple of Dendur at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the first time in more than three decades actually, that the Met decided to host a runway show. There had been speculation about his health when he was not present at Chanel’s haute couture show last month in Paris. He was admitted to the American Hospital in Paris on Monday morning; the cause of his death is still unknown.
Last Thursday, the Galerie Gmurzynska opened a sprawling show based on its 20-year relationship with Lagerfeld, featuring a range of images that capture both the mundane and the extraordinarily chic. A statement announcing the show quotes Lagerfeld himself, who once said, “What I like about photographs is that they capture a moment that’s gone forever, impossible to reproduce”—a sentiment that is echoed in the extravagant runway shows and editorial spreads he presided over as the creative director at Chanel for 35 years.
Many of the photographs in the show are black-and-white portraits of celebrities like Benicio del Toro and Ryan Gosling, but others—including hand-colored shots of costumes from Oskar Schlemmer‘s Triadic Ballet and architecture around Paris—illustrate his broad cultural interests. See some examples of his photographs below and for more, check “Homage to Karl Lagerfeld: 30 Years of Photography” on view at Galerie Gmurzynska in Zurich, through May 15, 2019.
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Caroline Goldstein | artnet.com
Kate Brown | artnet.com
This article has been edited by The Art Dose.