Contemporary Art Exhibition > Deutschland > Frankfurt
Paintings 1978 - 2003
Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt
29 January - 25 April 2004
Since the artist’s first sensational exhibitions shown in New York in the early 1980s, Julian Schnabel’s works have been celebrated enthusiastically as a new culmination of painting, a genre that had been declared dead. Both his ”Plate Paintings” based on porcelain shards and his highly expressive large-format oil paintings have found their way into all important international collections. Julian Schnabel also made a name for himself as a film director and scriptwriter with his first film about his friend and painter-colleague Jean-Michel Basquiat in 1996 and his second film ”Before Night Falls.” The comprehensive retrospective at the Schirn comprising more than 50 monumental works focuses on Julian Schnabel’s oeuvre as a painter, presented in Germany on such a large scale for the first time since 1987.
Max Hollein, Director of the Schirn and curator of the exhibition: ”Today, at a time that sees a widely propagated renaissance of contemporary painting, seems to be exactly the right moment for a reassessment of Julian Schnabel’s position as a painter which is not only outstanding but also exercises a decisive influence on a younger generation of artists. The retrospective offers the unique opportunity to view his work in its original dimension, materiality, and intensity and to explore this significant present-day painter’s many-faceted and impressive oeuvre in direct confrontation.”
The name Julian Schnabel is a synonym for monumental highly evocative paintings. The historical reference points of the artist, who was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1951, are as manifold as the range of his stylistic means, contents, materials and symbols, which manifest themselves in always new workgroups. Schnabel’s works have defied any stylistic categorization from the very beginning of his career. He considers ”style […] the fringe benefit of intention and action completed. In my painting it is only that. It is not about style, not about other styles; style is available, depending on the demands and needs of a particular work. A painting can proceed from one's inspiration and be complete and successful in the sense that the need is materialized, the revelation realized.”
Julian Schnabel began his career as an artist when he received a scholarship from the Whitney Independent Study Program, one of the most influential elite training centers for artists and curators. The scholarship enabled him to return from Texas to New York in 1973 and to get to know many important artists of the New York scene dominated by Performance, Concept and Minimal Art at that time. Apart from these impressions, Schnabel was very interested in European painting, above all in Italian religious fresco painting by Giotto and Fra Angelico, whose ”scale and specific weight” he found especially inspiring during an extensive tour through Europe in 1976.
In the late 1970s, Julian Schnabel developed his first large-format ”Plate Paintings,” in which he opened the pictorial surface by incorporating pieces of broken plates. This provided a dynamic ground, which, according to Schnabel, ”could hold a figuration like a Descent from the Cross or a Pietà without becoming manneristic.” The powerful and expressive figurative representations on these surfaces, some of which dealt with classical themes in the form of a collage, captivated both the public and the art world. The first exhibitions presenting his ”Plate Paintings” and works with wax in New York in 1979 made Schnabel, who had hardly completed his 30th year, a superstar of New Painting. Immediately afterwards, major exhibitions of his works were shown in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Tate Gallery and the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and in other institutions. The success of his approach is unequivocally documented by the surprising renaissance of painting as an original artistic medium. Schnabel on the subject: ”I thought that if painting is dead, then it’s a nice time to start painting. People have been talking about the death of painting for so many years that most of those people are dead now.” The market went into raptures over his achievements, and the established critics immediately split into two camps. While one side celebrated the return of painting and Schnabel as its figurehead, the other side complained about a step back to long antiquated, exhausted artistic forms of expression. Painting has died at least two deaths in the meantime, and its rebirth has been hailed again only the other day.
Julian Schnabel’s fondness for surfaces with an explicit character and objets trouvés established a new, playful materiality in contemporary painting which formed a sharp contrast to the reduction of Minimalism. Schnabel worked with oil, wax, emulsion, plaster, and diverse objects and relied on canvas, wood, Masonite, broken plates, rags, velvet, muslin, truck tarpaulins, and ornamental and figurative prints as his grounds. The artist regards these materials as anything but neutral; he rather exploits their past ”in order to bring a real place and time in the aesthetic reality.” His grounds are signals, fragments of history juxtaposed on the canvas in a nonhierarchic manner and independent of their different quality and provenance; they constitute the sensuous and tactile character of his works to a great extent and endow them with a sculptural character. The joining of disparate strands, figurative and abstracts motifs, the linking of fundamentally antagonistic elements as regards material, form, and contents, as well as the decision for sometimes crude collisions of color provide them with something essentially dissonant and fragmentary. Aside from the various materials, the size of his paintings, which are rarely smaller than 2 x 2 meters and measure up to 5 x 8 meters, contributes substantially to their physical presence. Schnabel’s works never submit to their surroundings but rather seem to take possession of the spaces and to transform them.
Julian Schnabel’s attitude towards his materials and formats is as unbiased as his choice of subjects and motifs is free. He reacts to his immediate environment, the specific atmosphere of places, and to personal experiences. The titles of his pictures and the texts in his works are often like notes in a diary that does not distinguish between everyday occurrences and significant events. This is why an abstract figurative group of pictures titled ”Lola,” for example, which basically relies on a reduction to contrasts of red, white, and black, can bear the name of his daughter, a sensuous blottesque work like ”Ozymandias” may establish an autobiographical reference to the English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem of the same name, or an earthy shard picture like ”Mud in Mudanza” can adopt the quite ordinary writing to be found on Spanish trucks as its title. As integral parts of his pictures, names of known and unknown persons, torso-like sentence parts spontaneously assembled from words and sequences of letters turn into powerful icons and, thus, into ideal projection surfaces for the viewer’s emotions and recollections. The ”Recognitions” series is a striking example for this. Here, the writing, which, filling the entire surface, stands out from the coarse oilcloth background, becomes the decisive component of the composition which breathes both a motific and an abstract quality.
Besides dedicating himself to painting, Julian Schnabel made two extraordinary films in the 1990s, acting as producer, scriptwriter, and director. He made his début with Basquiat (1996), in which he tells the story of his friend and painter-colleague Jean-Michel Basquiat’s life and death from a very close point-of-view. In sometimes ravishing and touchingly drastic pictures, Before Night Falls, his second film, focuses on the Cuban author Reinaldo Arenas; the film was awarded the Jury’s Prize at the Venice Film Festival in 2000.
Painting has remained Julian Schnabel’s primary form of expression as an artist despite his successes as a filmmaker and his numerous sculptural works. Schnabel’s paintings are still anything but foreseeable; each work group is still different from the one before. His works oscillate between abstraction and figuration, open and limited spaces, grand emphasis and calm composure, between strong and moderate color palettes, richness in detail and magnificent gesture. Schnabel probably is right on the mark when he says: ”I don’t want to have a logo and I have not found a signature that represents me.”
Curator: Max Hollein. Project management: Ingrid Pfeiffer with Carla Orthen.
Stops of the exhibition: After its start at the Schirn, the exhibition Julian Schnabel - Paintings 1978-2003 will be shown at the Museo National Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid (3 June - 13 September 2004) and at the Mostra d’Oltramare in Naples (October 2004 - January 2005).
Catalogue: Julian Schnabel. Paintings 1978–2003. Edited by Max Hollein. With a preface by Max Hollein. Essays by Maria de Corral, Robert Fleck, Max Hollein, Ingrid Pfeiffer, and Kevin Power. German/English, ca. 176 pages with ca. 70 color and 100 black and white illustrations, ISBN 978-3-7757-1386-7, Hatje Cantz Verlag, Ostfildern. 24.90 €.
JULIAN SCHNABEL: PAINTINGS 1978–2003
29 January 2004 - 25 April 2004
SCHIRN KUNSTHALLE FRANKFURT
Main sponsors: Lehman Brothers, Verein der Freunde der Schirn Kunsthalle e.V. Additional support:: Georg und Franziska Speyer'sche Hochschulstiftung, Peggy and Karl Dannenbaum.