Crash_Karl Lagerfeld


By Armelle Leturcq and Frank Perrin

We celebrate Karl Lagerfeld’s birthday with a look back on our interview with him from 2013: 

Karl Lagerfeld interview on art and fashion: this special art issue would not be complete without first checking in with karl Lagerfeld, who just completed a new collection for Chanel entitled “Art.” Organized like an art exhibition, the Chanel fashion show at the Grand Palais ironically and intelligently questioned the status of contemporary art in today’s world…

How did you get the idea to name a collection “Art” and present it as an art exhibition?

Everyone is talking about art! Organizing the fashion show was a delight for me. I’m a big fan of Pop Art and Minimalism, as well as anything grand or oversized. Painting is a bit dead. All the best works have already been painted. Nobody will top Manet, Matisse or their like. Artists no longer find joy in painting. Contemporary art finds beauty in large empty surfaces, even though they can be alienating. It’s not always the most attractive thing in a small, bourgeois interior. And it’s not so easy to figure out who might become the next Warhol. You need a special pair of antennas to pick up on those signals…

A lot of people mention him while claiming their right to art today…

We have to be careful when we hear the word art! Couturiers once used to fantasize about duchesses and high society, now it’s art…

Over the years with Chanel you have obliterated the traditional limits of the fashion show, staging grandiose productions that can be seen as complete artistic environments in their own right. You have elevated the fashion show to the rank of a “meta” artwork, transforming it into a comprehensive artistic platform powerful enough to draw the envy of many visual artists…

In a way, that’s true. But I’m no artist or anything!

On arriving at the Grand Palais for your latest fashion show in October, I noticed you had taken all the languages of contemporary art and remixed them. We were inside an art gallery, as if we had crossed a new threshold at that moment. The show was no longer imitating artistic processes, it had truly become an immense gallery with real works of art on display. At that moment we went through the looking glass!

Now you’re embarrassing me! (Laughs)

All the languages of contemporary art, all the language of art in its entirety, it was all blended and deconstructed through the pieces you created and displayed at this massive exhibition at the Grand Palais…

What’s most important is that no works were mere copies of other artists’ work. For example there were no faux Warhols. It’s the spirit that counts above all.

For example, « Door No. 1 » is in a devilishly Duchampian spirit: it’s a totally conceptual “table/door.” And “Victim of the Wheel” is absolute dynamite!

Definitely! Mankind invented the wheel and it now falls victim to its own invention! It’s the pure truth! People are victims of the automobile! Crushed by loans to pay for our cars! I also like L’élévation, which is a reference to Darwin with the monkey on two feet. The quilted sumo, too. And the crossed out logo.

How many works did you produce in all?

75 works! I designed everything in August and produced everything with Stefan Lubrina in September.

While everyone may be talking about art today, especially in fashion, no one has ever gone as far as this, presenting works that ask the profound questions about our time…

Certainly you may see it this way, but a lot of people took this fashion show as a mockery of the entire art world.

Especially in the art world, where people saw the show as a kick in the teeth…

It’s their daily bread! They’re afraid we’ll desacralize everything in their trash can! Lord knows there are some great artists today, but there is a lot of “junk,” too. I like James Turrell, Jeff Koons,

Walter de Maria… They’re marvelous artists, but there certainly aren’t a thousand like them… Why were there so many more great artists in the 1960s? Everything became too intellectualized after that time… One artist who annihilated them all was Joseph Beuys. He blew all the German artists away! He was a genius. When he came back from the war, he didn’t know what to do. He didn’t have a job, so he said, « I want to be an artist, so I’ll have to invent something.” When I was teaching at the University of Vienna, he came in one day, did a chalk drawing on a blackboard, and said to the director of the university, “Give this work to your wife [who ran a gallery], and then give me a check for 35,000 marks!” I still remember that day.

How did you manage to take your fashion show to the next level with Chanel? How did you develop this excessive and monumental aesthetic?

It all seems normal to us! Just a little fashion show among friends! And we don’t want to come back down! I want to keep my head in the clouds! It was even quite a shock once the day of the Grand Palais show rolled around. It’s almost impossible to find another site as stunning. When I was a child the Grand Palais hosted the motor show and the aeronautics show. Working there was simply magical.

Can we see the fashion show as a meta-artistic procession today?

Certainly, if you’re the one saying it! But I’m not allowed to say it! If I say something like that, people will think I’ve gone off my rocker! So do it for me! I put together the fashion show in a

spirit of innocence, irony and detachment, but I still think it’s beautiful! A New York gallery wanted to exhibit everything but we had to decline. A collector wanted to buy two pieces but we couldn’t do it!

Do you plan to produce any more « works »?

It’s possible. But I don’t want to turn my works into my babies! A lot of artists work that way but I’m against it. After a while you have to move on. Some artists even want immediate recognition for their works so they can be sold at auctions! You’ve certainly seen the record prices at Christie’s… It’s astronomical. Some works deserve high prices like these: Bacon’s triptych is magnificent and totally unique! But Jeff Koons’ Balloon Dog for 58 million dollars? That’s outrageous. I love it! It’s painstakingly and expensively done, but still the price! Though it is a wonderful work of art in any case!

Great works of art seem to capture the essence of an era. In the same way, the great Warhols serve as artefacts of their time. They bring everything together, so if there’s anything we should preserve from this time, it’s that.

Andy Warhol was only so-so as an illustrator. His sketches of shoes were nothing extraordinary, but he found the twist that captured the whole world!

We just returned from Reggio Emilia where we saw the Maramotti Collection. Among other things, it contains some great pieces of Arte Povera, with a few works acquired at the very beginning of the movement, before it was fashionable…

Ah yes, I worked with Achille Maramotti. He was a big collector. Some wonderful things came out of Arte Povera. An Italian artist I really like is Pino Pascali. He died young at 33 in an accident… I had three works of his but I don’t know where they went… I bought them from Alexander Iolas.

There was a wonderful Pascali piece in the collection. His work is incredibly rare! He’s a very unique cult artist…

It’s strange. I haven’t pronounced his name for 30 years. A lot of artists like Pascali have been forgotten: Eva Hesse, for example, or Blinky Palermo because he died very young as well. And a lot of artists have taken inspiration from their work. I’m a lot less interested by the generation of German artists like Baselitz or Polke, since they’re too repetitive.

Do you think speculation is playing a negative role in contemporary art today?

It’s worth as much as people are willing to pay. No one is forced to buy anything. Warhol’s Car Crash went for an astounding price. And maybe the people who bought it wanted us to know how much it cost! You know, the kind of people who collect Warhol… His work wasn’t so expensive in the past… It was reasonable back then. In the early 1960s, I bought Segals, Lichtensteins, Hockneys… I gave them away as gifts because I got tired of them. That was before the prices shot up! For me it was like having an old Courrèges dress! It was out! I had one of Andy Warhol’s Chanel No. 5s, a Flower that Andy gave me because I was in one of his films. But in 1971 it wasn’t such a big deal… I even trashed a Hockney painting. We had a fight and he sent me the painting to apologize. I destroyed it and sent it back to him…

Sometimes it seems like the media only talk about art and money, as if they couldn’t see the forest for the trees. It seems like it keeps us from talking about the real problem. In the end, building a museum costs no more than a few of the missiles we keep dropping…

It’s true, we talk about it too much and it’s nothing but money talk! I think it’s a shame. Because in the past you could build a collection with relatively little money. Gertrude Stein wasn’t very rich, but she still managed to acquire all these masterpieces when they weren’t worth anything. It was even an act of generosity to purchase a Picasso for 400 francs! Because it wasn’t official art at the time! So sometimes I ask major collectors, « Why didn’t you buy this piece thirty years ago when it was cheap?” I end up thinking they either had no taste or they’re just buying it now because it’s expensive and it’s there! 35 years ago I bought a 1906 Steichen print for 3,000 dollars, and it recently sold for 2.5 million! You have to discover things before they’re expensive.
Otherwise you look stupid or you just want to impress the gallery! I have a collection of German posters from 1905 to 1915 and I published four books on this period. I bought a Metropolis poster twenty years ago in a little gallery on Rue de Verneuil for 3,000 francs. And now it just sold in San Francisco for 690,000 dollars! But I’m not really an art collector. I would rather have a full library than a Damien Hirst pharmacy!

 Interview from Crash #66

Karl Lagerfeld interview by Armelle Leturcq

Karl Lagerfeld interview by Armelle Leturcq

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