VENICE— Julian Schnabel's retrospective at the Museo Correr on piazza San Marco opened today with a salvo of superlatives. "We are delighted to welcome Maestro Schnabel," said Giandomenico Romanelli, the director of Venice City Museums (Musei Civici Veneziani). Exhibition curator Norman Rosenthal — presented by Schnabel as his "co-conspirator" — talked about the show as "a demonstration of how alive is the art of painting in the hands of the great master."
The scale of the exhibition, titled "Permanently Becoming and the Architecture of Seeing," is in keeping with the scale of the prolific painter's production, here represented by over 40 paintings spanning four decades. Schnabel's retrospective gestures towards artistic continuity — "it was an opportunity to commune with the architecture and to commune time" said the artist — and it clearly attempts to place the American superstar on an equal footing with the city's greatest painters. Maestro Schnabel talked to ARTINFO UK about mortality, politics, and experimentation.
The idea of drowning is very present in your work and I was thinking of it in relation to Venice. The city is sinking. The threat of the future is particularly palpable here. Is this something you considered when you conceived this show?
I've talked a lot about drowning because I've spent a lot of time surfing since I was a teenager. When you go through the exhibition, you can see all this liquidness. But there's a threat to everybody's future. Venice is not the only place that's sinking. This whole planet is sinking. And we're all dying. So do you worry about that? Or do you let that inform the temporality and the ultimate, profound beauty that is the present? I think you just have to grab onto that feeling. And if you are lucky enough to see one of those skies that Dante talked about, the nine skies, well keep your eyes open because after a while it disappears and you might not get that sky again for a while. There's a kind of hedonistic celebration of beauty, heaven, mortality, and immortality in this city that's very graphic and present.
Norman Rosenthal described you as "a medium through whom painting and gesture appears to be self-generating." Is this how you see it? Do you see yourself as "a medium"?
Well, I wouldn't want to be pretentious, or say that I have "some extra power." I'm just interested in what I'm seeing. I have a physical response to that sensation, so I modify, mediate, and reorganize things in way that they seem better to me. Maybe just to make myself more comfortable, or maybe to see if it's possible to make something else out of it, to see something that I hadn't seen but that looks like something that I thought I saw. When I look at those three paintings, "The Atlas Mountains," I see the lagoons of Venice. I look at these horizontal lines and they appear to me like the shadows of islands that are out of the picture, ombras that are being reflected and submerged into the lagoon. There are a lot of different times of the day in all of the paintings.
Moving through your show is like moving through different chapters. How do you keep experimenting? How do you move on from one thing to the next?
I don't try very hard. It seems like a natural thing. It would be much more complicated for me to try to make the same thing all the time.
In you last film "Miral," you very directly address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Would you consider tackling political subjects so openly in your paintings?
In painting, what I'm tackling has to do with a different temporality and a different kind of discursiveness. It has to do with something which is beyond the time that is the length of a movie release, beyond the time that has to do with an immediate response. This is a time that you can look at, and think about or respond to over a period — for the rest of your life, if you want.