Acquired from the above by the present owner
Schnabel’s first solo art show was held at Mary Boone Gallery in 1979. It was an unmitigated success with all works sold in advance of the exhibition’s official opening. The following year, he was selected to participate at the Venice Biennale with Anselm Kiefer and George Baselitz and in 1981 Schnabel was the youngest artist to be exhibited in the now-legendary show A New Spirit in Painting, held at the Royal Academy, London. This exhibition was intended to summarise the situation of art at that point in time, in response to the new undercurrents appearing in painting and sculpture; it succeeded in bringing the developments firmly into the public eye.
A recurring theme in Schnabel’s work is that of identity and self-identification. Schnabel resolved to become an artist following his family’s move from Brooklyn, New York to Texas, Tennessee when he was thirteen years old. The new landscape ignited his senses and imagination and it began a lifelong fascination with different cultures and lifestyle choices. He notes of himself: ‘I am both an urban dweller and a small-town delinquent and a witness to small-town tragedies’. He saw travel as a means of stepping out of oneself and feeding ones vital socio-political consciousness. Perhaps the most explicit work in the exhibition in this regard is Si Tacuisses. Modelled as the stump of a palm tree, the bronze bears a sign evocative of a speech bubble that reads: ‘I went to Tangiers and had dinner with Paul Bowles.’ Paul Bowles was a New York-born writer who lived 52 of his 88 years in Tangier, Morocco from 1947 to 1999. Tangier became independent of a consortium of powers (including the United States) in 1956 and Paul Bowles became a symbol of elective migration. The title Si Tacuisses is derived from the Latin quotation attributed to Boethius, Si tacuisses, philosophus mansisses, which translates as ‘had you kept quiet, you would have remained a philosopher’. The buoyant and comic aesthetic of the bronze belies a statement about social perception and intention.
The selected bronzes exhibited in the gardens of Chatsworth this year bear resemblance in their form and certain primitive aesthetic. While they stand imposing and dramatic, they are not entirely devoid of levity: particularly in the cases of Joe and Si Tacuisses. The cold bronze of Gradiva, too, is literally lightened by the liberal splash of white paint. Their forms nonetheless hint at a sense of archaic religiosity, as though exhumed from an ancient burial site: totems of the past. This aesthetic derives from Schnabel’s fascination with other cultures, historic and present, and his non-conformist approach to contemporary art. Danilo Eccher summarises: ‘Julian Schnabel’s work therefore appears as a borderland, a precarious, unstable frontier between distant and contradictory aspects, a place of contraband and clandestinity, of broken rules and snubbed authority, of freeing dreams and nocturnal shivering. It is not only one of the most important exponents of experimentation in contemporary art, therefore, but also the affirmation of an astonishing, indefinable poetic thought. The art of Schnabel represents one of the clearest and most authoritative voices of contemporaneousness. His being transversally in the world with a light baggage, is the sign of a new artistic attitude which is curious and omnivorous and which does not fear the discipline of a confrontation’ (D. Eccher, in Julian Schnabel (exhibition catalogue), Galleria d’Arte Moderna di Bologna, Bologna, 1996-97, p. 30).
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