220 E 10th Street, New York, NY 10003
7 February – 30 March, 2012

“I was always looking at things that had been modified in some way—in older places where things have been adapted. There is a handmade quality to those places. I noticed a lot of stairwells in Italy, where people would cut holes in the walls as a banister instead of having a banister protruding out. Those holes had a big effect on the paintings. I was trying to make a painting where I penetrated the surface—obviously I knew that Lucio Fontana had cut holes or made slits—but I was trying not to see through the paintings”
Julian Schnabel on the making of
St Sebastian- Born in 1951 (1975-79)

A larger than life figure, Julian Schnabel has achieved art world stature and mainstream celebrity through his art, his films, and his well-documented lifestyle. Nevertheless, even cognoscenti are often unable to immediately conjure mental images that speak to the full scope and depth of Schnabel’s work, with the exception perhaps of his figurative paintings incorporating broken crockery. This myopia could be attributed in part to the artist’s refusal to adhere to a single signature style throughout his four decade-long practice. Though it is most probable that public recognition of Schnabel’s numerous contributions to painting have been obfuscated by his legendary status.

With this contradiction in mind, Oko will present Julian Schnabel 1978-81, a pointed study of Schnabel’s early work via a rotating exhibition of four emblematic paintings made in a period of explosive change for both the artist and the New York City art scene. Selected to underscore the material diversity and conceptual audacity of his early work, the four paintings will be shown sequentially beginning February 7, 2013. Each work will be presented individually in Oko’s space for a two-week period in order to spotlight the artist’s development of his singular ideas and techniques in a seminal moment. The exhibition sheds light on the fearless experimentation of Schnabel’s early career and suggests the profound influence he has had and continues to exert upon other artists.

While the four paintings in Julian Schnabel 1978 – 1981 have been widely reproduced in books and included in Schnabel’s museum exhibitions outside the United States, they have been exhibited only rarely in New York City. Each one represents a distinct body of work or material gesture that Schnabel initiated during a time of breakthrough in his practice. Exuberant experimentation is a common

denominator between the modeled wax surfaces of the veiled self-portrait “St. Sebastian – Born in 1951” (1975-79); Schnabel’s very first abstracted mosaic of ceramic shards and sculptural picture planes in “The Patients and The Doctors” (1978); the use of a soiled drop cloth as a pictorial ground in “The Mutant King” (1981); and the layering of fabric in the monochromatic “Abstract Painting on Blue Velvet” (1980).

In the years before the mid-1980s art market boom, Schnabel forged a pictorial language that embraced unconventional methods and materials with a visceral effect; he introduced to the American contemporary art scene a particularly European post-war sensibility through his admiration for Francis Picabia and his personal artistic dialogue with Sigmar Polke and Blinky Palermo; and he broke with the prevailing conceptualism through figuration, personal narratives and references to history and mythology. His poetic use of found materials and his embrace of chance operations (whether dragging a canvas on the ground, allowing a drop cloth to absorb the environmental stains of the studio, or exposing the paintings to the forces of weather) can be seen echoed in the work of a subsequent generation of artists, including Joe Bradley, Dan Colen, Urs Fischer, Wade Guyton, and Nate Lowman, among others. With the four paintings on view at Oko, visitors will enjoy an opportunity to connect the dots across decades and locate Schnabel’s indelible mark on the evolution of art since the late 1970s.

Julian Schnabel 1978-81 was organized by Alison Gingeras.

Oko is open to the public Thursday through Saturday, 12-6 and by appointment.