A career in rotation: Glass House exhibits decades of work by artist Julian Schnabel
NEW CANAAN — Through the burrowed, fortress-like entrance of the Philip Johnson Glass House Painting Gallery, away from the view of casual visitors, behind the floor-to-ceiling panels lining three of the four sides of the room, the permanent collection of the home’s namesake and his partner, David Whitney, is kept.
The recesses beyond the exhibition on display are filled by more panels — each pivoting around a common axis and affixed to a circular track Johnson designed into the ceiling — on which the works of Frank Stella, Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol and, notably, Julian Schnabel, are hung.
“That’s the way the building was built. Basically, Johnson would view six paintings at a time. That’s all he wanted to digest at once, so as not to develop ‘museum fatigue.’ And that’s his quote,” said Irene Shum, curator at the Glass House.
On a recent Tuesday, Shum could be seen briefly disappearing behind the panels, then reappearing as she drove the weight of her small frame into the partition, turning a new page of what Johnson conceived of as his “scrapbook” and exposing the latest works comprising “Paintings That I Hope Philip and David Would Like,” a three-part retrospective of the contemporary painter Julian Schnabel’s work.
“In museum parlance, gallery rotation is when a museum changes a collection display. So this is a gallery rotation, but it’s also a literal rotation.” Shum said as she pushed.
Other than Stella, no other artist is more fully represented in the Glass House’s permanent collection, and yet a solo show had never been dedicated to the eight Schnabel paintings, created over the course of five decades, collected by Johnson and Whitney.
Julian Schnabel at The Glass House
Julian Schnabel: "Paintings that I hope Philip and David would like"
Through Aug 14, 2017
The Glass House presents, Julian Schnabel: "Paintings that I hope Philip and David would like," an intimate survey showcasing Julian Schnabel's prolific painting career. Over the course of the exhibition period, the Painting Gallery panels will rotate three times to present paintings selected by the artist. Each rotation will feature six works from different periods of the artist's career.
Paintings from the 1980s & 1990s in the Glass House Permanent Collection
July 13 to Aug. 14, 2017
“We had actually started a conversation seven years ago to do this, but for whatever reason, it didn’t come together,” Shum explained. “When I approached Julian again earlier this year, it had been seven years since he’d been to the site. He wanted to come back and get reacquainted. So we walked around the panels and he saw his artwork and he was like, ‘You have a great survey of my work, why don’t you display them!?’”
Together, Schnabel and Shum curated a show featuring 16 large-scale paintings (shown eight at a time) and one sculpture and five map “drawings” —actually maps over which Schnabel judiciously spread red paint — that will be shown for the duration of the show. The works came from private collections and Schnabel’s studios— one in New York City, the other on Montauk— broken into three distinct periods, to fill out the exhibition.
The first installment, Wax Paintings from the 1970s, which ran in the early spring, featured some of Schnabel’s early attempts at painting, somewhere between the time he graduated with a BFA from the University of Houston, in 1973, and his breakthrough 1979 solo show at the Mary Boone Gallery in SoHo.
“These wax paintings show a young artist trying to find his own visual vocabulary. You really get a sense of a struggle there,” Shum said.
The second rotation, Paintings After 2000, was up from June through July 10 and showcased works from three of Schnabel’s series: Nothing Paintings, Weather Paintings and Landscape Paintings. In this later period of work, Schabel incorporates found items — painting over materials bought in Mexico — and photography.
“The Weather Series almost looks like aerial photography. But, in fact, they are photographic prints of paintings that he made. He painted these on the floor of his studio in New York, then took these hyper-close-up photos,” explained Shum
The remaining eight, Paintings from the 1980s and 1990s, opened July 13 and will be on display until August 14. This final rotation consists of works owned by Johnson and Whitney, who, as collectors, were initially drawn to some of Schnabel’s contemporaries, rather than to Schnabel himself.
“Artists that David and Philip gravitated to immediately are David Salle and Eric Fischl,” said Shum. Both Salle and Fischl were also exhibited at the Mary Boone Gallery. “They collected Salle almost immediately. So here Julian was, and his colleague is immediately picked up, and you’re not. So Julian was very touched when they started to collect his work.”
The first painting Johnson and Whitney purchased, in 1990, is called “Untitled with Bingo.” Over its black backdrop, are painted in purple the abstracted shapes of Schnabel’s dog, Bingo.
That initial purchase led rapidly to the collection of more of Schnabel’s works.
“Once they got turned onto him they started to collect him really quickly,” Shum said. The remaining paintings, and “Ozymandias,” a large, driftwood-inspired sculpture in bronze named after the Percy Bysshe Shelley sonnet, were soon collected.
But, according to Shum, Schnabel’s contributions to the permanent collection are significant not just in their number, but in the marked ways in which they differ from earlier items collected by the pair, perhaps signaling a late life shift in tastes on the part of Johnson and Whitney.
“The Warhols are very classically modern. The Stellas are very geometric and very clean. Schnabel’s just seems like this strange anomaly,” Shum said. “They’re very physical, you totally see the artist’s hand working and manipulating the canvas. Toward the end of life they were drawn to more edgy, more emotional, more macabre works.”
Shum, too, came to Schnabel only in the recent past, after joining the Glass House in her curatorial role and observing closely the artist’s work.
“I’ve learned to really appreciate the energy and the vigor he brings to the canvas. Before coming to the Glass House I had only known him through his persona. He’s a personality, he’s a celebrity in his own right. Especially back in the 80s, he was this big, brash artist who would say these outlandish things,” Shum said.
“Since being here, I’ve come to think he’s a genius. To see the way he’s gone from those wax paintings, into film, into sculpture — it’s very awe-inspiring.”