The Julian Schnabel Revival

The Julian Schnabel Revival

Postby CAP » Tue Apr 05, 2011 12:37 pm

I see in the March edition of Art in America, a 10-page puff for Julian Schnabel by Raphael Rubenstein (‘The Big Picture: Reconsidering Julian Schnabel’, pp. 111-119). I know I said I’d give up reading AiA once Lindsay Pollak, noted art market gossip princess took over the helm there, but a weak moment finds me thumbing through it in my endodontist’s waiting room…

Presumably, it’s in advance of the Schnab retrospective, flagged by Jeffery Deitch for L.A. MOCA in 2012 (Positively Schnabsville?). Theoretically, L.A. should welcome the Schnab, even if only ushered in by The Deitch, another New Yorker by inclination. The Schnab works on a Hollywood scale; makes Hollywood movies, makes Hollywood moves. His massive doodles have a certain Californian slackerness and self-indulgence, and yet and yet, like Deitch, he’s not really one of them, not really at home there. He is un-cool and he is old news now. So the pre-publicity gears up in the heart of the mother-ship for American art journalism. Uh… Someone looking for a catalogue essay? I’m pretty sure no one’s going to ask for my version.

But Raf’s making his pitch, on generous terms, courtesy of the new look AiA and trying to dance his way around the fact that the stuff really hasn’t come very far since the early 80s when Pigboy emerged as the incarnation of 80s bombast and excess, a vanity of bonfires that burned a few too many other players, and consequently has been politely all but ignored by public institutions. No one wants to be reminded of those times, for all sorts of reasons. Look for substantial criticism on Schnabel, and you’ll find almost nothing since the 80s. Look for books and there’s not much more than The Schnab’s own, predictably gargantuan, vanity publication. Compare this with literature on Kiefer or Kippenberger, say or Clemente or Taaffe, other 80s luminaries, still of interest. You get the picture? Yes, we see. Rubenstein excavates a Frankfurt Kunsthalle show in 2003 and a Toronto Retrospective in 2010 coinciding with the TFF’s screening of Schnab’s latest feature – Miral - to support his claim. But right there is the problem. Marketing tie-ins are not really going to make the stuff look any better, or more relevant. If anything, they encourage the view of a drifter, a hustler, big on ambition, delegation, small on dedication.

Rubenstein acknowledges that The Schnab has not really taken his place in American art history with one of his signature broken-plate paintings, up there following Pollock’s drips, de Kooning’s Women, Warhol’s Soup Cans, etc. Why is that? Well, apart from the fact that no-one can be bothered writing that sort of art history anymore (even in museums) the unpalatable truth is Germany has actually stolen contemporary art back off America, and even Americans would rather collect Richter, Polke, Kiefer, Kippenberger, Neo Rauch and anything else Zwirner and the hustlers at Art Basel/Miami can get their hands on. The history of American art, like so much of the American economy, has become a story of imports. The Schnab was really at that turning point when American art started to dip into serious decadence and indulgence. He looked to German marketing and… – let’s face it – FANATISICM – no one can quite gross-out like the Germans (as my old friend, Herr Kurtz liked to remind me) - and The Schnab could not quite match it. Kiefer comes on as the failed and bitter alchemist for a viable heritage, a desperate archaeologist unable to preserve anything of lasting value, but consoled by ritual, footnotes, the rudiments of perspective. He speaks for a new Germany, full of old Nazis. Schnabel comes on as the goofy doodler sprawling on an epic scale, while on the phone to his brother-in-law broker. He speaks for a flabby, flatulent America, blinded by hype, bent on connections. Similar comparisons can be made between Salle and Polke. But the bottom line is New York was no longer where it was at. New York is just where it got sold. The Schnab represents that uncomfortable transition, that regrettable transaction.

Raf is certainly not about to try to place Schnabel historically, or stylistically. Whoa! That would be a little too much work. Instead, he riffs as only Raf can, on the eclecticism, the troubled heritage of American abstraction (or just plain abstraction, come to that) the use of text, found or adapted surfaces. He skips the superimposed thing that Schnabs and Salle were/are so hot for, but then that would only beg other, uncomfortable comparisons with German contemporaries. In the end Raf’s not even going to buy into the ‘What is Painting?’ or ‘Is Painting Dead?’ arguments, although he hints this is where Schnabel’s rehabilitation may lie (p. 119). Again, this is just so much footsy.

‘If Schnabel’s work re-emerges into wider public view… and thus becomes available to younger artists, and as something that critics and art historians have to directly confront, it will be fascinating to watch the results. In the meantime, his paintings, in all their messy grandeur and devotional passion, will be out there somewhere in the universe of painting like a kind of artistic dark matter, hard to detect but dense with gravitational mass’ (p. 119)

Seeing those enormous clunky surfaces of shattered plates again is more likely to prompt today’s art students to ask why plates? Why there? And to find no more compelling answer than gestures of extravagance and wanton waste. I suspect in the current economic climate, viewers will only be reminded of an earlier, more reckless time, and to detect dark matters only in the extraordinary sales that followed, dense with mass perhaps, but more likely, insider trading.
Last edited by CAP on Tue Apr 19, 2011 4:55 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Julian Schnabel Revival

Postby walker44444 » Mon Apr 18, 2011 5:41 pm

Schnabel is an overinflated beach ball puffed up with ego and bluster. No talent, no skill, no ideas. A big shallow blowfish.

Kiefer, on the other hand is a deeply intelligent, thoughtful and committed artist.

Who cares what country or city has supposedly the 'hottest' artists. It's not a bloody catwalk. :D :D :D
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