Julian Schnabel: Symbols of Actual Life
Legion of Honor | April 19 - August 5, 2018
“The paintings in the exhibition epitomize much of what are the essential characteristics of the smallest and most nascent proposals of how imagery, drawing, and material function in my painting. This is as far as I can take painting — this week.”
— Julian Schnabel
SAN FRANCISCO – The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF) are proud to present an important and unusual exhibition by one of the most significant painters of our time. Julian Schnabel’s first exhibition at a US West Coast institution in over 30 years will feature new, large-scale paintings, occupying the Legion of Honor’s open-air courtyard. Inside, the museum's neo-classical galleries will play host to three series of paintings from the past three decades, rarely seen before by the public. The exhibition is part of FAMSF’s newly formed contemporary art program, which creates dialogues between living artists and the buildings, locations and collections of the Legion of Honor and de Young.
Max Hollein, Director and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and curator of the exhibition states: "Since 1978, Julian Schnabel has transformed what painting is, what a painting can be, and how paintings can be done. The sculptural physicality, complex materiality, and unique pictorial language of Schnabel’s works create an emotionally charged and poetic environment for the viewer, which is simply revelatory. Extraordinary in many aspects, his new paintings at the Legion of Honor will be an arrangement in a challenging arena, fostering many of the elements that make his work so outstanding."
Julian Schnabel: Symbols of Actual Life will begin before visitors even enter the Legion of Honor. Placed around the vast outdoor colonnade of the museum’s courtyard will be six 24-by-24-foot paintings, architectural and monumental in scale, yet part of an ephemeral natural cycle. Painted on found, tarp-like material in the artist’s outdoor studio, they will be exposed to the elements over the four-month run of the exhibition, thus absorbing their own exhibition history.
Inside the museum the exhibition will present eight paintings from three distinct bodies of work; showing the artist’s evolved, yet coherent practice. His unorthodox, highly experimental approach to the use of materials, gestures and form is explored in audaciously scaled and shaped paintings that oscillate between abstraction and figuration. Using a vast array of sources, Schnabel continuously incorporates a diversity of found materials into his works: broken plates, textiles such as Kabuki theater backdrops, sails, tarpaulins, and velvet. Images, names, and fragments of language; and thickly applied paint, resin, and digital reproductions are distributed across surfaces and support.
A recent series of abstractions are painted on material, burnt by many hours of exposure to sunlight while covering stalls in a fruit and vegetable market in Mexico. Works from Schnabel’s The Sky of Illimitableness series (begun in 2012 as a posthumous tribute to Mike Kelley) feature a surrealistically outsized goat — his nod to Diego Velázquez’s A White Horse (1635) — superimposed onto reprints of nineteenth-century wallpaper. The series samples Schnabel’s frequent embodiment of classical pictorial elements and his treatment of paintings as time capsules.
Paintings from Schnabel’s Jane Birkin series (1990) are shaped like the felucca sails the artist encountered during his travels in Egypt, their canvases sourced from the sail cloth Schnabel acquired from the sailors. The boat’s name, Jane (already inscribed on the sails), reminded Schnabel of the actress Jane Birkin, and he incorporated her last name along with abstract marks in oil and gesso into his works. Presented in the three galleries dedicated to sculpture by Auguste Rodin, the exhibited works represent Schnabel’s response to the physical space and to the eternal themes of desire, love, suffering, death, and redemption that pervade the collection at the Legion of Honor.
About the Artist
Julian Schnabel was born in New York City in 1951. Schnabel’s first major solo exhibition was at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston in 1976 and his paintings, sculptures and works on paper have since been the subject of numerous exhibitions in institutions around the world, such as The Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 1982; Tate Gallery, London, 1982; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1987; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1987; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, 1989; Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, Monterrey, 1994; Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona, 1995; Galleria d’Arte Moderna di Bologna, Bologna, 1996; Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt/Main, 2004; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, 2004; Museo di Capodimonte, Naples, 2009; The Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, 2010; Museo Correr, Venice, 2011; J.F. Willumsens Museum, Frederikssund, 2013; Dairy Art Centre, London, 2014; Museu de Arte de São Paulo, São Paulo, 2014, Aspen Art Museum, Aspen, 2016, Hall Art Foundation, 2017 and Schloss Derneburg, 2017, among others.
Schnabel wrote and directed the films: Basquiat (1996), Before Night Falls (2000), The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007), Berlin (2007) and Miral (2010).
Schnabel’s work is included in the public collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Guggenheim Museum, New York and Bilbao; Tate Gallery, London; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin; and Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, among others.
Julian Schnabel lives and works in New York City and Montauk, Long Island.
Visiting the Legion of Honor
Lincoln Park, 100 34th Avenue, San Francisco. Open Tuesdays–Sundays, 9:30 am–5:15 pm. Closed most Mondays. Open select holidays.
This exhibition is included in general admission. For adults tickets are $15. Discounts for students, youth, and seniors are available. Members and children five and under receive free admission. More information regarding tickets can be found at legionofhonor.famsf.org/visit-us.
This exhibition is organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.
Major support is provided by Deutsche Bank, Almine Rech Gallery, Blum & Poe, Pace Gallery, and Vito Schnabel Gallery. Additional support is provided by our in-kind partners Fairmont San Francisco and United Airlines.
The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s Contemporary Arts Program is made possible by Presenting Sponsor the Lisa & Douglas Goldman Fund. Major support is provided by Nion McEvoy and Leslie Berriman and The Paul L. Wattis Foundation. Significant support is provided by Frances F. Bowes. Additional support is provided by Alexandra Bowes and Stephen Williamson, Kate Harbin Clammer and Adam Clammer, Jessica and Jason Moment, Katie Schwab Paige and Matt Paige, David and Roxanne Soward, Joachim and Nancy Hellman Bechtle, Jeffrey N. Dauber and Marc A. Levin, Joshua Elkes, The Elkes Foundation, Shaari Ergas, Laurent Fischer and Jason Joseph Anthony, Kaitlyn and Mike Krieger, Lore Harp McGovern, Rotasa Fund, Mr. and Mrs. Charles R. Schwab, Gwynned Vitello, Vance Wall Foundation, Anonymous, and the Contemporary Support Council of the Fine Arts Museums.
About the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco oversee the de Young, located in Golden Gate Park, and the Legion of Honor, in Lincoln Park. It is the largest public arts institution in San Francisco, and one of the most visited arts institutions in the United States.
The Legion of Honor was inspired by the French pavilion at San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915 and, like that structure, was modeled after the neoclassical Palais de la Légion d’Honneur, in Paris. The museum, designed by George Applegarth, opened in 1924 on a bluff in Lincoln Park overlooking the Golden Gate. Its holdings span 4,000 years and include European painting, sculpture, and decorative arts; ancient art from the Mediterranean basin; and the largest collection of works on paper in the American West.