Monday, April 1, 2013

the "resurrection" of julian schnabel

alfredo triff

art/writing today can be compared to a social/metabolic phenomenon dithering between information/democratization and latent public apathy. in the early 2000's the art establishment prescribed a quick fix: the thinning of information, which didn't solve the problem: it only increased the atrophy.

though art/writing is a highly processed & diluted product people still crave it. this is not a contradiction --we have no clue as to what causes our craves & think of it ex post facto. which brings me to michael m. miller's the resurrection of julian schnabel, for Gallerist NY.  

let's take a closer look. the article's title already plays the portentous: the dead don't have powers of their own. to resurrect one needs grace's intervention. and grace dabs at everything:

1- the biographical (in wordy sentences ricocheting the factual)
In the early ’80s, his painting Notre Dame took in $93,500 at Sotheby’s. (“No, I’m not particularly pleased with the sale price,” Ms. Boone told a reporter from The Washington Post at the time, thinking it would break $100,000; some of his canvases now sell in the low seven figures.) Ms. Boone jointly represented him with Leo Castelli, the gallery of Warhol and Rauschenberg, and when Mr. Schnabel left both dealers for Pace Gallery in 1984, Mr. Castelli, in the pages of the Times, compared him to King Kong and, so the story goes, told Mr. Schnabel, “You have all my contempt.”
2- a bit of gossip,
He’d learned that I had called his first wife (didn’t pick up), David Salle (didn’t want to talk about the past because it “bores the pants off of me,” but sent me a statement saying “if a man likes to go about town wearing pajamas, I don’t see why that should bother anyone else”), Pace Gallery’s Arnold Glimcher (no comment), Mary Boone (didn’t return repeated requests for comment) and a number of other people Mr. Schnabel was close with in the ’80s.
3- plus live footage,
He went over to his son and asked what the cardboard sculpture was for. It was a project for an art class at Bard College. “I have to spell out my name somewhere on it,” Olmo Schnabel said. Mr. Schnabel picked up the sculpture. “I’ll tell you what,” he said, pointing to the square bottom of the piece, “you’ve got an ‘O’ right here.” He gestured to a crease running roughly through its center. “And that’s your L. You can use duct tape to put an M right here.” Olmo stared blankly. “I’m just worried that there are requirements—” “Listen,” Mr. Schnabel said. “Screw them. They don’t know what they want.”
all the right ingredients! 1- belongs in the typical narrative of late-19th century harper bazaar's novella. it worked: america was hooked. in 3- miller presses for a report & meets his subject's hubris. 2- is artsy-irresistible (& we all love it).

if he ever kept a countenance of neutrality, there are worrying signs of miller's early budging (as he lets go this veiled protest):
The press turned Mr. Schnabel into a caricature, the scapegoat for everything wrong with the art world and the archetype of narcissistic artists everywhere.
miller brings forth schnabel's body from the dead as we speak.
(...) He compared himself to Van Gogh and said to Morley Safer on 60 Minutes, “Would you ask Marlon Brando if he had a big ego? Do you have a big ego? I’m sure you do.” In the late ’90s, he began showing less frequently in America and became a critically acclaimed filmmaker, an industry in which hubris is not only expected but revered. He made Before Night Falls, the film that turned Javier Bardem into a movie star, and the highly stylized The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, for which he won Best Director at Cannes.
miller goes through the artist's biography as if adding relevant threads of causal evidence (you'd assume the past is connected to the present). but the problem is in the structure: reporting & opinion don't go together: one undoes the other.

we have "reporting" in red and "opinion" in blue:
Mr. Schnabel entered the room quietly, almost sheepishly, and everyone kept going about their business. He is 61 and on the short side, with a slight paunch, a patchy beard and slicked-back hair. He was wearing yellow-tinted glasses and a black jacket with an image printed on the back of one of his “Big Girl” paintings—a blond girl in a blue dress with a sinister smile and a slash of black paint obscuring her eyes. Mr. Schnabel has been known for walking around the city in paint-splattered silk pajamas, a gesture considered by some to be the pinnacle of 1980s hedonism, but that day he was in jeans and work boots.
are salma hayek or rihanna guilty of "1980s hedonism"? (i bring it up only to show how much  disconnected claims make up the axis of miller's overall argument). yet, we understand his point. the idea is to restore schnabel's art while keeping intact his post-romantic-bête aura. miller's (schnabel's) "resurrection" suggests the rediscovery of an epoch's misunderstood genius.
Olmo stared blankly. “I’m just worried that there are requirements—”
“Listen,” Mr. Schnabel said. “Screw them. They don’t know what they want.
miller doesn't bracket his subject. it appears as if schnabel & olmo are alone. caught up already in a hall of mirrors, does the writer have a choice? isn't this what art/writing is supposed to do? a video-in-a-blurb? a sub-atomic novella?  

then suddenly,
Mr. Schnabel turned to me. “I’ve been making these portraits of the Brant children. Plate paintings. Would you like to see them?”
next, the writer is given a tour of schnabel's art corpus inside the palazzo chupi ("the greatest Julian Schnabel museum in the world").

the article ends with a narcissistic exposé shuffling fact & opinion: schnabel actually pulls a 50-page (recent) essay by dutch curator rudi fuchs, which reconsiders the latter's perception of schnabel's work through the 1980's. here are some highlights --as the artist reads to miller, who prefers to just quote schnabel quoting the essay: 
The objections against Schnabel were strong and sometimes bitter. Somehow they were right: Schnabel was the most outrageous painter of the three.(the other two are Basquiat & Salle) ...  The exuberant paintings of Schnabel were extremely unsettling. The misgivings of some of his older contemporaries were understandable. Even with all his glamorous renown, he was a dangerous outsider.
nothing looks better for rehabilitation purposes than a famous curator's mea culpa.

now miller takes back the rudder and reports. on the other hand, defending one's reputation (as schnabel does) by reading fuchs' retractation to a total stranger appears contrived --or plain naive.  miller doesn't want to appear biased, which only makes things worse.
He skimmed through the next 20 pages quickly, but he slowed down to read the last bit about himself.
in closing, schnabel talks through miller (or vice-versa?)  
“Schnabel is unrestrained and sentimental,” Mr. Schnabel said. “Whatever grandiose or complex images get into his head, in whatever emotional mode—he will try to make it: breaking every rule of style and decorum, bending art where it has to go.”
pure artblicity!  


Anonymous said...

Hahaha. Surgical Reading. I like Schnabel though.

John H.

Feminista said...

Triff: I have to agree with John H. I don't care if Schnabel is a hedonist. When one looks at art one doesn't look at the artist (even if his personality was bigger at times than his art). But I liked his angle. Definitely more than other famous artists of the times, like Clemente for example. I enjoyed your reading of Miller's piece though. It makes you aware of what the writing does to you. We go back to your point, we crave it and that's it.

Alfredo Triff said...

Tx John. I like him too. Painting and drama. :)

The point Feminista is not being a "hedonist". The point is Miller's feeble defense of Schnabel.

Dissey said...

I have to say that I enjoy this kind of analysis. Nice work Triff. For the record, I don't find Schnabel's big color blotches that interesting.

atRifF said...

Tx, Dissey.