- Julian Schnabel
- oil and gesso on tarpaulin
Pace Wildenstein, New York
Acquired by Gianni Versace from the above in 1996
Monterrey, Museo de Monterrey, Julian Schnabel: Retrospectiva, September - November 1994, cat. no. 27, p. 113, illustrated in color
The 1980’s were a decade that embraced the large ‘gesture’. Economically, socially and politically, this was a period marked for its conspicuous consumption. Indeed, the post-modern bacchanalia of New York City is referred to in a number of popular cultural constructs. Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities and Oliver Stone’s Wall Street record a time where the burning desire for material success was underpinned by a darker set of ambitions. This heroification of personal and professional success, embodied in characters such as Sherman McCoy and Gordon Gecko, naturally, filtered into the realm of art and the personality of the artist. If the cult of the artist had been invented in the Renaissance, then a reinvention certainly took place in the 1980’s. Andy Warhol and Josef Beuys were positioned as the ‘grand masters’ of the period, both having staked their claim to this ‘title’ in the creative laboratories known as The Factory and the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf in the 1960’s. Their revolutionary approach to the object and to the nature of the ‘grand gesture’, be it painterly, sculptural, Filmic or Performative, was questioned and somewhat abandoned during the 1970’s, with the emphasis on a stricter Conceptual code informing the art of the time. The subjectivity inherent to the ‘gesture’ (be it emotional, political or autobiographical) was anathema to the dry objectivity necessary to distill the binary logic of ‘art as idea’ and ‘idea as art’. What emerged, in the 1980’s, however, was a triumphant return to painting, and with it came a renaissance of the subjective, ‘politicized’ artist whose statements were grander and bolder than ever.
No artist made his voice heard more than Julian Schnabel did. This was an art that simply oozed machismo, and fitted perfectly into the tone of these bold, daring times. Born in 1951 in New York, Schnabel studied at Houston University (1969-73) and then the Whitney Museum of American Art (1973-74). In 1978 he made trips to Spain, Italy and Germany, and his powerful expressionism found a number of connections with similar painters’ works, especially in Germany. He took an interest in Beuys’, Sigmar Polke’s and Anselm Kiefer’s studios and his earthy, masculine attacks on the canvas saw a nexus with the works of Kiefer, particularly, as well as others such as Georg Baselitz and Jörg Immendorff, who all made highly-charged, monumental works that were executed in a frenzy of paint. He thus had his first solo show at the December Gallery, Düsseldorf in 1978. Schnabel, one year later, had his first solo show in New York at the Mary Boone Gallery, and the effect of the show was extraordinary. It catapulted the artist into the limelight, and he became an instant success. He was included in the Venice Biennale in 1980 and one year later he was included in Nicholas Serota’s epoch-making A New Spirit in Painting at the Royal Academy in London. In 1982, he was one of the chief protagonists of the now celebrated Zeitgeist exhibition in Berlin and he also was honored with his first ever large-scale museum show at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. His rise was meteoric and his punchy, primeval production exemplified that.
Schnabel’s extroverted expressionsim combines a myriad of different influences. He quotes European mythology, Asian mysteries, and contemporary American stories. He has incorporated art-historical impulses, as well as the worlds of popular art and the mass media into his work, adapting these thoughts, amalgamating them into what Peter Schjedahl called Schnabel’s “primeval material” which then literally spread throughout his work. There is something quite Shakespearean about Schnabel’s open desire to cast a flurry of emotions together onto the same stage. Tragedy, comedy and History are all fused into one ‘narrative’ that completely engages the viewer.
Aside from the bravura of Schnabel’s painterly style, the artist has a very sensitive and instinctual attraction for different surfaces and materials. He has painted on plates, wood, silk, animal hide, tarpaulin, employed antlers or parts of a car in his canvases. His passion for variegated materials chimes with his desire to work on a monumental scale. The intention is to create gigantic works that unfold an overpowering magic in his work. No effect is too primitive for Schnabel, just so long as it captivates and holds his audience, as is the case here with the enormous letters spelling out the title of the painting, underscored only by a flashing white bolt of paint underneath it. The scale is monumental, but the mechanics of the gesture are essentially very simple. Schnabel’s paintings possess a certain Baroque awe to them; their outlandish compositions, as well as their bold and ornate decoration, simply stop us in our tracks. It is impossible to not feel seduced by a Schnabel painting. Just as he immerses himself in a plethora of differing materials, so too does Schnabel enjoy the multiplicity of styles and techniques. He marries figuration and abstraction together, often employing these greatly varied elements side by side in his art. Waves of symbols and metaphors dance across his canvases, often at random, like a stream of consciousness. However, out of this chaos emerges some sense of order: even if these pictorial orchestrations (cacophonies even) appear in disarray, they nonetheless fascinate the viewer. There is a magnetic suggestiveness to the art of Julian Schnabel which draws the viewer in, and which confirms his position as one of the leading lights of the re-emergence of painting in the 1980’s.