A tribute to the master – Karl Lagerfeld at No.55 Artspace ‘What is not black should be white’

The White Shirt Project exhibition was held during Paris Fashion Week on September 25, 2019 . Hundreds of friends and fans joined together in celebration of Karl Lagerfeld’s remarkable legacy. The ambassadors of Chinese creative wisdom – Xu Jing, China’s modern calligrapher, and Away Lee, fashion designer – attended the event.

The current event at No55 Artspace is an extension of the tribute to Lagerfeld. It showcases Karl Lagerfeld’s innovative spirit in a different cultural background. The exhibition is themed What is not black should be white. This event is by appointment only.

To learn more about this special exhibition, we interviewed Mr Yan Jun, CEO of Karl Lagerfeld China and Mr Shan, the master behind No55 Artspace.

Q: Why did you decide to showcase Karl Lagerfeld in the art space?

Mr Yan Jun, CEO Karl Lagerfeld China (YJ)

Karl Lagerfeld lived with art. His life represented a Modern Renaissance and was intrinsically connected to art. He had many cross-field collaborations with interior and architectural designers, designed costumes for performing artists, and had his own exhibition of photography held in the Palace of Versailles. Karl Lagerfeld’s studio and library are further evidence of Karl’s profound connection to art. The series of tributes around the globe were held in Karl Lagerfeld’s boutiques. In China, we have chosen a unique way to celebrate this legendary designer at No55 Artspace.

Q: The white shirts on display, are they from artists from around the world?

YJ: Yes, they are. For example, supermodel Cara Delevingne had her lion and elephant tattoo designs on her white shirt tribute. She is forever grateful for Karl’s wise words to try something new. Murakami Takahashi was Lagerfeld’s favourite artist. He found his works full of surprising humour and wit. Murakami once used Karl’s face in a portrait series. This time, the artist selected the sunflower as a symbol of Karl’s far-reaching influence; sunflowers embellish the Japanese kimono of Murakami’s white shirt tribute.

Q: What do you have to say about cross-field collaborations between international brands and Chinese artists?

YJ: In the international art scene, Chinese artists are a force to be reckoned with. In their pursuit of ultimate beauty, these artists are showing the world our enormous cultural heritage in a fashionable way. Xu Jing, China’s famous modern calligrapher, was inspired by Karl Lagerfeld’s remark, ‘I design like I breathe. It just happens.’ Xu Jing found a symbiotic link to calligraphy in this saying and infused ‘Breathe’ into the design of her white shirt tribute. The calligraphic message of the East found a match in Western design in a beautiful celebration of art and fashion. Black and White – like East and West and Ying and Yang – are part of one.

Q: What role do you see Chinese artists playing in creating wider awareness of Karl Lagerfeld as a brand in China?

YJ: We plan to expand the involvement of artists from various mediums in various creative projects with Karl Lagerfeld China. For example, when I read Flowers by Jin Yucheng, it immediately evoked a lot of ideas of how to channel art into fashion. We’re already working on China’s Karl Legends series, where we feature China’s legendary artists like Chen Danqing and Guo Chenghui, among others. We’re going to set our imaginations free.

Now, we’re going to ask Mr Shan (MS), the master behind No55 Artspace, a few questions about this unique exhibition.

Q: Can you tell us about your role in this exhibition? What other exhibitions have you been involved in?

MS: Over the years, I have curated a number of exhibitions. Three years ago, Mr Zhong Song, a famous furniture designer for Heaven, invited me to create a concept that would showcase his creations at the Shanghai International Home exhibition. That is how Mr Shan’s Study, a design concept and a joint collaboration, was debuted at the Shanghai International Home exhibition in 2016. I collaborated with Liang Quan on Mr Shan’s Kitchen, and it was exhibited at the Hive Centre for Contemporary Art in 2015. Christie’s showcased a Contemporary Scholar’s Studio in September 2017. As part of the Mr Shan’s Study exhibition, Pen, Ink and Paper was shown in July 2018 in Guangdong Museum of Art and at Poly Auction. This was followed by Mr Shan’s Tea Room exhibition at the Sungari Auction in Beijing in June 2019.

I am the curator for What is not black should be white. For many years now, I have been a fervent advocate of traditional Chinese creative wisdom. In my conceptual creations, I want to emphasize an organic nature of relationships between Eastern and Western art practices. As an avid art collector and a gallerist, I am committed to promoting art.

Q: Where does your vision and wisdom come from?

MS: In short, years of collecting and living with art is the basis of my experience. Thirty years of working in a Swiss international company along with my lifelong passion and involvement with art is what built my expertise. In the preface to Mr Shan’s Study exhibition in Guangdong Art Museum, Professor of Archaeology at Beijing University, Xu Tianjin noted that I study and learn from works of art.

Q: Why black and white ?
MS: To Karl Lagerfeld, designing was like breathing. Xu Jing’s calligraphic work has captured that. Calligraphy represents the unity with one’s heart through breath. It has to be natural and unforced, just like any artistic creation. Breathing is essential to life; it is a pathway from the material world into the spiritual realm. The ancient Chinese creative wisdom is permanently instilled in the Breathe character. To Karl Lagerfeld, the white shirt was the essential component of life. Black and white , like Ying and Yang are the basis of everything, regardless of geography or cultural background. These are my favourite colours. I live surrounded by them, with a little bit of red on occasion.

Q: As a curator, how do you see collaborations between fashion and art evolving? Is this the latest marketing gimmick?

MS: First of all, one should have a clear vision – a purpose for such collaboration. Foreign brands operating in Chinese markets should weave in the traditional Chinese value system in order to be successful, otherwise their impact and longevity will be very superficial. However, when promoting fashion through art, one should pay attention to common denominators that connect a particular brand to a particular artist. Art trends are the products of time and era. They represent today. They are a derivative of the socio-economic system we live in. Art and technology, science and technology, a cultural exchange between East and West, these are the trends of today and the future. They are also the genesis of the evolution of China’s traditional culture.

‘I like living, breathing better than working…my art is that of living. Each second, each breath is a work which is inscribed nowhere, which is neither visual nor cerebral, it’s a sort of constant euphoria.’
– Marcel Duchamp

Q: Your exhibition features works by Chinese and French artists, and even includes some French-designed furniture. Can elaborate on your choices?

MS: Rather than explain it, I’d prefer that you feel it.