Julian Schnabel opened a comprehensive survey of his works at The Brant Foundation in Greenwich, Conn. this Sunday. The grand-scale works were largely informed by the previous Andy Warhol exhibition, as well as the camaraderie of the artist, the patron, and their respective familial influences.
Schnabel, 62, is known for his flamboyant personality both on and off the canvas. The father of six and husband twice over is a die-hard expressionist, with dually Warholian and evocatively German paintings that are instantly both self-aware and conceptually relevant. Motifs of broken plates, bold strokes and multilingual phrases recur throughout the exhibition.
As an unlikely veteran of The Brant Foundation, I found the Schnabel opening uncharacteristically minimal. Sunday was rainy, so the trademark roasting meats were not set out on the polo field, and the shuffle to the food tents was done only one time by socialites and celebs desperate to stay dry. From an artistic standpoint, Schnabel’s bold works (at 22 x 22 feet, “El Espontaneo [For Abelardo Martinez],” 1990, was literally kind of a big deal) comfortably fit the massive walls, and the relationship between Julian Schnabel, Peter Brant and their respective eclectic residences lent the showcase a more intimate feel.
Peter Brant has been collecting Schnabel’s art since they met in 1987, buying works from the late 1970s. At the time, Schnabel was arguably at his creative peak: he was about to discover the portrait of a young girl that inspired his “Girl With No Eyes” paintings, and had already developed a substantial repertoire with his use of broken plates. Upon entering the foundation, “The Patients and the Doctors,” 1978, and “Divan,” 1979, greet visitors with innovative triptych explorations of plates on wood. Schnabel introduced bold strokes into “The Sea,” 1981, and “The Walk Home,” 1985, the latter being a favorite of Brant’s during his offhand walk-through.
As the exhibition chronicles, Schnabel innovated his plate paintings from studies to portraits in the early 1990s. By that point, he was the father of Vito, (a budding fine art impresario with increasingly independent notoriety) Lola and Stella. The plate portraits feature his then-wife Olatz as well as Brant’s wife Stephanie Seymour, with the series continuing into his daughter Lola, Peter’s daughters Lily and Allison, and his current partner, Danish former model and art director May Andersen. Andersen gave birth to Schnabel’s sixth child, Shooter, in 2013. While his twins, Cy and Olmo, were present at the opening, they were not the subjects of any works on view.
Apart from the Greenwich offshoot, Schnabel’s work features prominently in the West Village. Wallsé, Kurt Gutenbrunner’s Zagat-rated Austrian restaurant, features a bold-stroked Schnabel work on almost every wall, with a portrait of the chef upon entrance and a Danish-inspired “thank you for dining” phrase across a work in the back room.
The abundance of art by Julian Schnabel at Wallsé is not least because his primary residence is just down the block. Palazzo Chupi, as his home is called, is a five-story building inspired by a Venetian villa. The basement houses a swimming pool, and the living room is decorated not only with similarly evocative wordplays in art, but also with antique bolero jackets on stands and dinosaur fossils. It appears that the dinosaur head is on loan in Connecticut.
When he is not in Manhattan, Schnabel lives in Montauk. Peter Brant graciously explained that Andy Warhol also lived in Montauk when they all became friendly, so some of Schnabel’s inspiration may draw from that connection. In addition, the current display is organized in a very similar way to the Warhol show held in Greenwich this past spring: loosely chronological and ending with video and family portraits.
Brant went on to clarify that the foundation is not at all a farmhouse, as previously documented by the press, but an apple storage facility converted to a tennis court before it became an art space. However, there was no guided tour — just whispers among friends and the press.
Fun fact: the last name Schnabel in German translates to beak (think Yiddish/English for “schnoz”), but in Yiddish it can also apparently mean “a gossip” … more etymologically speaking, a nosy person. I think it’s appropriate that in the center of the gossipy art world, Schnabel has triumphed.