Vintage News | Karl Lagerfeld, a Renaissance Man

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In the exhibition, “The Voyage of Ulysses,” shot by Mr. Lagerfeld. Chris Warde-Jones for The New York Time.



The 15th-century Palazzo Pitti, by the banks of the Arno, is one of the great storehouses of Italian Renaissance painting, an embarrassment of riches by Raphael, Titian and Tintoretto. But the fashion industry is never shy of gilding the lily. This week, on the occasion of the semiannual Pitti Uomo men’s wear fair, an installation of photography by Karl Lagerfeld, fashion’s own Renaissance man, joined the work of the past masters, hanging or posted among them, beside them and, in some cases, over them.

“Karl Lagerfeld: Visions of Fashion” catalogs a small part of the designer’s prodigious output, unparalleled among his fellow fashion polymaths.

“In 1984, for the shooting of the collection of Chanel, he was complaining to the director of images,” said Gerhard Steidl, Mr. Lagerfeld’s publisher, who with Eric Pfrunder (that director of images for Chanel) curated the exhibition. Mr. Pfrunder told Mr. Lagerfeld, “it would be best to buy you a camera to do the photo shootings yourself,” Mr. Steidl added. Mr. Lagerfeld’s shutter has been blinking continuously since. 

About 200 photographs have been installed in light boxes or printed onto fluttering lengths of translucent paper (the same sort used for coffee filters, an exhibition coordinator said) and dangled from the ceiling of the palazzo’s Sala Bianca, one of the birthplaces of modern Italian fashion. They are images Mr. Lagerfeld has shot for Chanel (where he has been creative director since 1983) and Fendi (also creative director, since 1965) and for magazines like Numéro, for which he gamely photographs the work of his fellow designers as well as his own.

The show also includes selections from Mr. Lagerfeld’s personal photography, which he orchestrates for his own ends: A multipanel take on “The Voyage of Ulysses”; a retelling of the Greek romance of Daphnis and Chloe, starring Mr. Lagerfeld’s favorite model, Baptiste Giabiconi, in a loincloth of his design, as a youth being inducted into the mysteries of love. (A German voice narrates the accompanying soundtrack in a whisper.) Mr. Giabiconi also stars in “The Beauty of Violence,” a video and photograph series of paroxysms. Eike D. Schmidt, the director of the Uffizi Gallery, who also worked on the exhibition, connected it with 18th-century theories about expressive movement.

“Though,” he added dryly about Mr. Giabiconi’s frantic and underdressed spasms, “this is a 21st-century version.”

Mr. Lagerfeld famously avoids looking to the past. “This is one of the sicknesses of our period, to look back,” he said in an interview last year. But Mr. Steidl said the designer was only too happy to sift through his photographs for the exhibition.

“From the beginning, he said, ‘Yes, let’s do it,’ ” Mr. Steidl said. “When we were looking through these photos and he selected them, we saw they had not aged at all. So it doesn’t matter if you look back or not, if there’s a future or the past, the photos have not aged. That’s it.”

Like Karl? “Like Karl,” he agreed.

Mr. Lagerfeld was not present at the opening Tuesday night; other duties are keeping him in Paris until Thursday, when he is due to arrive in Florence. But he did appear in the exhibition in a large digital self-portrait hanging in one of the galleries among Renaissance treasures — above, and several times the size of, one of the great Raphael portraits, “La Velata.”

However the Italian masters might have felt about that juxtaposition, guests sipping aperitivi on the palazzo’s terrace appreciated it.

“It Italy, they can be very conservative about classic art,” said Erica Pelosini, the jean-shorts clad Florentine firecracker behind Louis Leeman shoes, with a touch of chagrin. “It’s rare to find modern photography. It’s a perfect mix.”

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In the exhibition, “The Voyage of Ulysses,” shot by Mr. Lagerfeld. Chris Warde-Jones for The New York Times.

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