Julian Schnabel at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto - dart ...

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Julian Schnabel at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto - dart ...

Julian Schnabel, Untitled (Self-Portrait), 2005, oil, wax, resin on canvas, 108 x 102”© 2005 Julian Schnabel. Collection of Johnny DeppWhat Goes Around Comes AroundJulian Schnabel at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Torontoby Edward RubinIt is somewhat ironic that JulianSchnabel’s current exhibition, JulianSchnabel: Art and Film at the ArtGallery of Ontario is following in thefootsteps of the museum’s King Tutexhibition. Both men are known fordoing things in a very big way – KingTut with his tomb and Schnabel, highlyin evidence here, with his titaniccanvases that all but dwarf the commonman. For the 59-year-old Schnabel, whowas all the rage with his smashed platepaintings during the late 70s and early80s, before he eventually fell off his artworld pedestal, this exhibition – thelargest since his 1987 Whitney MuseumRetrospective – is tantamount to aSecond Coming. The “ball has comeback into his court” as he gratefullyacknowledged during his press preview.Not that he ever stropped playing, orfor that matter stopped painting, butpeople and life went on to differentthings. Julian himself turned to filmdirecting, a move which further eclipsedhis reputation as a painter.Art and Film, deftly curated byDavid Moos, is an ingenious way ofrefurbishing Schnabel’s all but forgottenart world reputation and a reintroductionof the artist to the general publicwho is more familiar with his films thanhis art. The exhibition, using some 60of Schnabel’s works, traces the artist’sinterest in cinema through his paintings,sculptures, and photographs. Many ofthe works refer directly to specificactors, filmmakers and their films, suchas Pasolini’s Accattone and Vittorio deSica’s Shoeshine. One of the earliestpaintings in the exhibition, his 1975painting Norma (Pool Painting forNorma Desmond) is a tribute to the filmSunset Boulevard. It is an interest whichaccording to Schnabel, goes back to hischildhood days of growing up inBrooklyn during the 50s. “Just likepainting, going to the movies was anescape for me from the ordinariness ofeveryday life at home,” Schnabel toldme during a pre-opening interview.“Movies were more real to me than mylife at home. As a child I found The TenCommandments, when Moses partedthe Red Sea, totally awesome, andMoby Dick, when you get to see thegreat white whale’s eye is terrifying.When I first saw Repulsion, I realized amovie can really get inside of you. Itcould haunt you, and you could identifywith it.”Despite the immense size of someof the canvases, and the fact that theartist’s work takes up the entire fifthfloor of the museum, the exhibition isan intimate experience – in large partdue to the intensely personal andarcane nature of many of the works.Crowds aside, the viewer is continuallyreminded, by the size, power, andexperimental brashness of the artist’sexecutions, that there are only threepeople here to take into consideration –you, the looming artworks themselves,and the branded hand of Schnabel,whose resonant signature announcesitself at every turn. The first paintingthat meets you head on as you walkinto the exhibition is the Last DiaryEntry (for Roman Polanski) 2010.Although I do not presume to knowwhat it is about, nor what it represents,the lush and crazily colored figure in thepainting – a mix between a tampereddown Frances Bacon, an Alice inWonderland character, and some dizzydART INTERNATIONAL FALL 2010 17


dame – is highly exciting and very muchalive. It is one of the few works in theexhibition that jumps out at you: itactively grabs your attention rather thanengulfing or overwhelming you, asmany of his larger works attempt to do.Several of Schnabel’s historicalsmashed plate paintings are on view,most prominently his groundbreaking1978 Patients and the Doctors. Havingsettled back into the dust bin of history,they bear none of the initial excitementthat they engendered when they firstturned the art world on its head. Atleast for now, until they are gathereden masse for maximum effect – andhopefully this will be soon – theyremain an anachronistic oddity. Equallyunengaging, though it does shed lighton the artist’s respect for Brando (whohe considers “the greatest actor thatwe’ve seen”) is the Brando Room. Sixlarge, relatively mundane poster-likephotographs, which Schnabel boughtfrom the actor’s estate sale, depictBrando in a long-haired wig, kiddingaround during the filming of the 1968comedy Candy. By adding spray paint,resin, and ink to the surface of thesephotographs, Schnabel, making thiswork his own, transformed thephotographs into paintings. These samephotographs first appeared during afantasy scene in Schnabel’s 2007 film,The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.Another small gallery is filled withSchnabel’s portraits, including one ofhimself from the collection of JohnnyDepp. Even with their tacky framing,which reads young and very early 80s,the slickly painted, slightly garishportraits, compelling in a nervous sortof way, are not half bad. Gary Oldman,who as Albert Milo played Schnabel inthe film Basquiat is presented wearing atraje de luces (suit of lights) belongingto Curro Romero the famous Spanishbullfighter. Rula Jabreal, Schnabel’scurrent love interest, and the author ofthe book on which Schnabel’s soon tobe released movie Miral is based on –it opens worldwide this December – isseen wearing the same dress thatactress Emma de Caunes wore in TheJulian Schnabel, The Patients and the Doctors, 1978 oil, plates, bondo on wood, 8 'x 9' x 1'© 2010 Julian SchnabelDiving Bell and the Butterfly during oneof Jean-Dominique Bauby’s reveries. Themost compelling portrait on view is the1982 The Portrait of Andy Warholpainted on black velvet, in two sittingsand five hours. Here a shirtless, ghostlyWarhol, looking more vulnerable thanusual, more an apparition than a livehuman being, appears to be dematerializingbefore our very eyes.In the three largest paintings –each one 22 feet by 22 feet, one inchshort of the gallery’s 23 foot ceilings –(although you would not know it unlessyou read the label or are wearing ahead-set), Schnabel returns to thetheme of bullfighting. Painted in 1990these works were specifically made tobe exhibited in the city of Nîmes at the“Maison Carée”, an ancient Romantemple. Here, the three canvases,removed from their original site, readlike epic movies that end up on a smalltelevision screen, their sense of wonderseverely muted. All we are left with arethree very big, mildly interestingabstract paintings that mean a lot moreto the artist than the viewing public.What is interesting about these works isthe unique and totally unexpected way– a well known signature of the artist –that these paintings materialized. “Itook a table cloth and dipped it in oilpaint that had a lot of turpentine in itand I threw the table cloth at thepaintings so all of this drawing thatlooks like printing, that looks likegravure, is made by taking a big linensheet and dipping it in the paint andthen throwing it at the canvas.Sometimes I even took the sheet androlling it up used it like a bat.”One near-mesmerizing,disarmingly simple painting that stillsticks in my mind – one of 14 thatSchnabel’s painted for his Big GirlPaintings series in 2001 – is Large GirlWith No Eyes. Going large again –roughly 14 by 12 feet – we see a youngblonde girl, from the shoulders up,18 dART INTERNATIONAL FALL 2010


wearing a blue dress. She is looking –that is, if she was allowed to see –straight out at us. However, the artist,stripping her of sight, bars us fromentering into the picture by painting along black bar that masks her eyes.Schnabel’s stated intent, for thispainting as well as the entire exhibition– here perfectly, if not hypnoticallyachieved –“is to force the viewer tolook at the painting and not the eyes.”The most cinematically stunningworks on view are Painting for MalikJoyeux and Bernardo Bertolucci V andVI, two enormous black and whitephotographs from Schnabel’s 2006Surfing series. Again, by adding gessoand ink to the polyester canvas, theartist turns a simple photograph of asurfer negotiating a giant rolling wave(somewhat akin to turning a script intoa movie) into breathtakingly dizzyingride, which all but magically pulls usinto a canvas that is more alive thandead. Not a bad ending for a Schnabelcomeback.What follows is a transcript of a portionof an interview by Edward Rubin withJulian Schnabel and videotaped onThursday, August 26, 2010 at The ArtGallery of Ontario. The interview maybe viewed at: www.dartmagazine.comhad other issues to address.ER: You moved to Brownsville, Texasand you learned to surf off the reefs offthe Gulf of Mexico.JS: Well, there’s no reefs out there.They’re sandbars. But I started surfingin Texas when I was a teenager andthen I went down to Mexico and surfeddown there. I surfaced in Hawaii.Different places.ER: Water means a lot to you. I noticedin your paintings, in your sculpture, inyour films you are always referring towater. I mean one sculpture is titledafter Ahab. You have a 1981 paintingtitled The Sea. Lou Reed’s Berlin, yourconcert film, opens and closes withrushing water. Some of your monumentalpaintings which require ladders,hoists and gallons of paint, you liken tothe process to whaling, casting out inthe ocean to see what you can get.JS: Yes, I said that it’s like whaling in thesense that you go out and bring backwhatever to make the lamps with. It’sactually Malcolm Morley that said that,but I thought that it was a good thing.ER: Then you carried it over to Jean-Dominique Bauby, who feels trappedinside a diving bell and his artisticliberation is accompanied by images ofmelting icebergs. You even place Baubyin a wheelchair on top of an oil rigwhich is surrounded by water.JS: It’s not an oil rig. It is a stanchion, infact. Actually, it is on the beach nearthe hospital in Bergues and as I wasgoing to the set, the tide had come inand the stanchion was totally underwater and on other moment it wentout 500 meters and it was on thebeach. What a perfect solution for aguy that’s on the shores of loneliness,so I put that in the movie and put himEd Rubin: Critics place you with agroup of artists known as the neoexpressionistsand then they claim thatyou railed against both minimalism andminimalist’s attitudes of the 70s. Is thislabel even fitting? Is it a fair assessmentor were you consciously orunconsciously just doing your thing?Julian Schnabel: Yes, that’s a goodquestion. No! That label is irrelevant infact. It means nothing. And I wasn’trailing against minimalism. In fact I like it.ER: I do too.JS: And so it depends on what artist ismaking it. I like certain works. I thinkDon Judd is an excellent artist and DanFlavin and a lot of people that work inthat kind of practice. But for me myversion of art didn’t include it, or thoseissues were taken care of by them. IJulian Schnabel, Portrait of Andy Warhol, 1982, oil on velvet, courtesy of the HirshhornMuseum and Sculpture Garden. © 2010 Julian Schnabel. Hirshhorn Museum and SculptureGarden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, Joseph H. Hirshhorn Purchase Fund andRegents Collections Acquisition Program with matching funds from the Jerome L. Green,Sydney and Frances Lewis and Leonard C. Yaseen Purchase Fund, 1994dART INTERNATIONAL FALL 2010 19


in a wheelchair on the stanchion, but itis not an oil rig.ER: Also in the film Basquiat he is givento fantasies of surfing on the ocean.JS: Yes, the ocean is important to me.The sea is important to me. In fact,there is a picture in this exhibition calledShoeshine and I made it in 1975 andthe first image that you see in the filmShoeshine by Vittorio De Sica is animage of the sea. It’s a black and whiteimage of the sea, and as the camerapulls back you realize that there is alittle head on the bottom watching afilm of the sea, and as the camerakeeps going back you realize that theyare little heads that are in prisonlooking at the sea… so they’re childrenin jail looking at the image of freedom.ER: Well, you also live in Montauk bythe water. Am I right?JS: Yes I do.ER: In 1987, just a little history, you arequoted as having said that “eventuallyyou will look boring to the art crowd.”JS: Boring to the art crowd?ER: In one of your interviews.JS: I don’t think that I said that. I don’tthink that I said that.ER: Anyway I read it.JS: That’s OK.ER: And then at one point you were allthe rage, and people said “Well the80s, you brought in the 80s.” In otherwords you came in with the decade ofgreed. You had your painting in the filmWall Street, etc. They are trying to placeyou. Then came all these viciousattacks. People would attack you, likeHilton Kramer.JS: Actually no. Hilton Kramer wrote agreat article about my work in 1982. Hewrote about Malcolm Morley and mecalled… I don’t remember what it wascalled, but actually that was verypositive.ER: Well, he did… Didn’t he write acatalog essay for you for one of youshows?JS: No! But what Hilton Kramer did washe wrote some of Charles Saatchi’s Artof Our Time, that was a catalog of hiscollection, and Hilton Kramer was oneof the writers, but he became moreJulian Schnabel, Unititled (x-ray), 2008, ink on polyester 148 x 116" Courtesy of SperoneWestwater and Marco Voena. © 2008 Julian Schnabelconservative as time went on. Butactually what he wrote about me wasextremely positive.ER: Well I read a lot… they said a lotof ugly things and I think that theyattacked you as a person and not yourwork. In other words, it was twodifferent things. I was wonderingwhat effect that had on you.JS: Well how did you feel when youcame to the show and you saw thepaintings? What was your experience ofthe show?ER: Since I wasn’t that familiar withyour work, although I thought in the lastfew weeks I’ve seen a lot of it, I foundit awesome. I also wondered why all ofthe critics, many of them, everyone,even your TV appearances recently, theywould talk to you about your monumentalego, and yet from what I feelyou don’t have a… I mean you’re doingyour job, I don’t see that. And I amwondering what they’re seeing. And Isaid to myself he’s a wonderful son. Iknow that you had a close relationshipwith your father which was verybeautiful. You took naps with him. Youtake naps with your son. And you said,“I want to be a good son.” One of thethings that I found strange is that ineverything I read you very rarely talkedabout your mother. It’s a lot about yourfather. Is there a reason?dART INTERNATIONAL FALL 2010 20


JS: Well, I think that in the last part ofher life my mother receded quite a bit.When I was a child she was my bestfriend. And what’s interesting that yousay that is that I really did make TheDiving Bell and The Butterfly for myfather, who was trapped inside of hisbody. He was dying of prostate cancer.But my mother, in fact, was presidentof Hadassah in Brooklyn in 1948, somethingI didn’t know, until my sister, whois eleven and a half years older… I knewthat she was the president of Hadassahbut I didn’t know she was the firstpresident of Hadassah.ER: The first!JS: Yes! 1948 was the birth of the stateof Israel. So this film that I just madeMiral is definitely for my mother, so mymother is getting her moment in thesun.ER: Oh really! You said in one placethat your parents were married for 60years and who wouldn’t want to buyinto that. I was surprised that you’re anintellectual…I didn’t know anythingabout you and that you are so smartand well read. In fact, I think Iremember hearing you quote NaguibMahfouz. Were you reading from hisbook at the Dennis Hopper show thatyou curated at MOCA in Los Angeles?JS: No! No! I was reading from AminMaalouf’s book Leon El Africano, butthat’s a great writer.ER: By the way, the poem that yourfather wrote. Beautiful.JS: It’s a great poem.ER: It’s a great poem. Every bit as goodas Howl. So anyhow, you were attackedviciously by people who compared youto Picasso and would bring up WaltWhitman, I believe America’s greatestpoet. Do you feel that you share thingswith these to people? I mean otherpeople seem to think so.JS: Well I love when Walt Whitmansays, “It’s OK If I contradict myself. Icontain multitudes.” So I think if youlook at the show, there are a lot ofdifferent versions of what a paintingcan be, and obviously at a certainmoment there is a part of of my brainthat’s a storyteller, so I started makingfilms also. But one thing is whensomebody comes to your studio andyou have one painting and then agroup of pictures and you say “OK I’mgoing to pull this one out and showyou something and it looks radicallydifferent” and they go “Wait a minute.Let me try and wrap my head aroundthat.” And then they come overanother time and you’re not making apainting but your showing them a filmand then they say “What happened tothe paintings? I mean, why are youjumping ahead so quickly? Let me catchup to you.” In a way, everybody’s gottheir own trajectory and their own lifeto live and they do not have time tofigure necessarily all the intricacies andinterests in everybody, and if you don’tcouture your work to please or placatethe audience, that could be a problemin the short term. In the long term, itdoesn’t matter because I think an artistworks at making their work, andultimately what is satisfying is doing thework, not having people agree withyou. Now, maybe on occasion whenI was younger, the unwillingness to bemore social in some kind of way couldbe seen as arrogance. Or saying no tocertain things, or not wanting to beco-opted in certain ways, and obviouslywhen you’re young… I remember Jean-Michel being interviewed once andsomebody was asking him and he said,“You know this was the product of ayoung mind,” and you know, when hewas saying this he was only 25, but itcame out like he was 20. But he was sosmart, that one time I was looking at apainting of his and he said, “What doyou think?” and I said, “If I did it…”He said, “This is my version.” And Ithought “Now that’s smart.” I thoughtabout that a lot. But until you do…you know sometimes obviously weare insensitive when we are younger.For example, there was a guy namedRockets Redglare. Did you ever knowRockets? ‘Cause he used to do thiscomedy show in the East Village.ER: No! The name sounds familiar.JS: He was a big fat guy. He’s actually inthe movie Basquiat as the drug dealer.And Rockets was walking nearGrammercy Park and I saw him one day,and I said, “Where are you going?”And he said “I am going to Jean-Micheland he’s going to make a painting ofme.” So I said, “I’ll make a painting ofyou. Just come over to my studio.” Justlike that. Now I didn’t mean anythingby it. It was unconscious. I didn’t meanto insult Jean. The guy came over. Imade the painting, but his feelingswere hurt. Michel’s feelings were hurtby that. You know, you’re young andunconscious. I was older than him, butI was still young enough to be stupid.When I made the movie, I had a scenewhere Gary Oldman comes in and seesRene Ricard, and he says to him “Whatare you doing?” He says “Oh, ya know,do you want to come over and I’ll makea portrait of you?” And he leaves Jean-Michel’s studio, and then you seeJeffrey Wright [the actor] write – ‘causehe was making a painting for Rene –and it said, “Rene, something, 711”or whatever it was, and he basicallycrosses it out and you understand whatconstitutes the history of marks inpainting sometimes. It’s something thatwas helpful in making a movie about aguy that writes words on his paintingsor writes things that people can recognize,‘cause if somebody crosses thatout, you can go, “Ah, he crossed outhis name because the guy left hisstudio.” So you can see that Jean-Michel’s feelings were hurt, and maybethat was a way of answering Jean,even post death, just saying to him“I’m sorry.”Julian Schnabel with Jeffrey Wright and BenicioDel Toro on the set of Basquiat. Courtesy of theartist. © 2010 Julian SchnabeldART INTERNATIONAL FALL 2010 21

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