On a walk with Julian Schnabel for his frustrated exhibition in Malaga due to the transport strike


Julian Schnabel (New York, 70 years old) has been in Malaga for 48 hours and has not yet seen the sun. Yes, he has walked under orange skies due to the haze, over the brown mud that covers the streets after the rain and among the white that dominates the walls of the Contemporary Art Center (CAC). With 19 of the 23 works of the exhibition that opens this Friday trapped in the Port of Algeciras due to the carrier strike in Spain, the interior of the museum is a huge bare room through which Schnabel walks with curiosity and resignation. “I had never faced something like this,” says the artist and filmmaker next to the empty walls. He knows by heart where each part should be installed. And he explains them as if he had in front of him a ghostly art that will come to life when he gets out of his port jam. “Huelga,” he says in Spanish. The management of the center hopes to be able to install all the pieces of the sample, entitled Schnabel and Spain: Anything Can Be a Model for a Painting (Schnabel and Spain: anything can be a model for a painting), sometime in April. It will stay until June.

Disheveled hair, glasses with yellow lenses, a lot of parsimony and a jacket illustrated with one of his works, Schnabel toured the interior of the Malaga CAC without stopping this Thursday. He did it with a mixture of calm, nervousness and fun: “I landed in the middle of a storm and now the city looks like Cuba in the middle of a hurricane.” Please, he asks for a catalog to illustrate his words about the exhibition, which shows his evolution during the last 25 years. The large-format works, signed between 1997 and 2022, show his ability to tackle different styles, from figuration to abstraction. Also his chameleonic work with appearances, the use of materials or themes. There is a common context, Spanish painting, present in his imagination due to its proximity to the country where he lived for years and to which he returns with some frequency. The pandemic complicated travel, life. “I was privileged. I spent the confinement in Montauk [área vacacional al este de Nueva York] painting outdoors.

Julian Schnabel, this Thursday at the CAC in Malaga.Garcia-Santos (El Pais)

The intense artistic career of Julian Schnabel gives to talk whole days about art, photography, music, cinema. quote to Jorge Galindo and happiness brown as its referents of art in Spain. To Penélope Cruz, Antonio Banderas and Javier Bardem, from the cinema. “When I saw it in Ham Ham, I thought: either he is exactly like that or he is a great actor”, he recalls. “It was the latter and when we did Before Night Falls they nominated him for the Oscar, just like now”, recalls the person who opens another exhibition in Los Angeles on April 9. He assures that he wants to return to management. He has written several scripts with his current wife, the Swedish Louise Kugelberg, with whom he had a son four months ago. Already they worked together on the film At Eternity’s Gate (2018). Now, she has designed the catalog for the exhibition in Malaga, which is what Schnabel prefers to talk about now: “I came even without the pieces being here, I wanted to thank the work of those who have made this a reality.” The CAC has worked for two years and has made a significant budgetary effort for the exhibition, one of the most outstanding in the city in 2022.

Schnabel and Spain: Anything Can Be a Model for a Painting works as a whole, but could be divided into chapters. The first starts with a series of portraits, including three that are already in Malaga from private European collections and arrived before the rest, who traveled by ship from the United States. Painted in Sebastián, they date from 1997. On one side, the painter Albert Oehlen. On the other, José Ramón Antero, owner of a bar in the Old neighborhood of Donosti, to which Schnabel used to go with his then brother-in-law Alejandro Garmendia. Her face fascinated him and he wanted to paint it. “I began these works on a dark canvas that I later gave light to,” says Schnabel, thus imitating the work of artists such as Velázquez, whose crucified christ has reinterpreted with his friend Víctor Hugo Demo as a model in his work Christ, the third of the portraits that have been able to reach the CAC. He also looks at Goya, of which in 2021 he reproduced Queen Maria Luisa on horseback ―with permission from the Prado Museum, which I visited frequently in the 90s―. The representations are located at some point in the past and a white line that returns them to the present. A common trait on which the pieces dialogue, a conversation involving two portraits of the composer Tatiana Lisovskaia dressed as the Duchess of Alba, which she painted in 2014.

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Julian Schnabel contemplates the canvas 'Large girl with no eyes' (Huge girl without eyes) at the Center for Contemporary Art in Malaga.
Julian Schnabel contemplates the canvas ‘Large girl with no eyes’ (Huge girl without eyes) at the Center for Contemporary Art in Malaga. GARCIA-SANTOS

“I prefer to paint live, with someone in front of me. Then you can do whatever you want, like the clothes I added to those portraits of my friends,” says Schnabel, who dressed Antero in a black robe and ruff and Oehlen as an altar boy. From here to there inside the CAC, he reflects on his interest in blending reality and fiction and, every few steps, he turns to delicately touch his works. He then speaks of the resin he uses, of his philosophy when dealing with art, crossing the border between figuration and abstraction over and over again. He also points out that anything can serve as a model for a work, as the title of the exhibition points out. “Frank Stella said that to paint you only had to make two decisions: what to paint and how to paint it”, sums up Schnabel.

The North American artist is attracted to working with varied materials. He illustrates it with four pieces on a pink cloth that he found in Zihuatanejo, Mexico, where it was used to shade a street market. He also combines techniques, such as the use of printed images mixed with traces of oil on polyester in two portraits of goats inspired by equestrian portraits. The reuse and reinterpretation of materials is exemplified in the reproduction of three billboards that one of his sons photographed alongside a highway in Italy. In front of them is the fascinating and enormous canvas Large girl with no eyes. It is the fourth and last work currently present in Malaga, arriving on time from Milan. He made it in 2001 with his own fingers based on an image he found in an old store in Texas. “Painting gives me freedom. You don’t have to know what you’re doing when you’re doing it. It’s the freedom of not having meetings, agents, or people telling you they don’t have money for your film. You can do it yourself. It’s like playing the saxophone”, explains the artist, who in turn believes that it is more complex to make a painting than a film. “You are responsible for everything,” he warns when he stops the conversation to receive his daughter Lola Schnabel, accompanied by his brother Cy, who join the conversation.

Schnabel poses next to her portrait of José Ramón Antero.
Schnabel poses next to her portrait of José Ramón Antero.Garcia-Santos (El Pais)

The exhibition is curated by Fernando Francés and Cy Schnabel himself, who performs this work for the first time in an exhibition of his father. A portrait of him in Venice, four years old and sitting on a chair, will close the last chapter of the exhibition when it is complete, together with another of his brother Olmo with a wig and that of a girl they had as a neighbor in childhood, Teresita . “We made the selection of the works together. They are made for 25 years, but it is not a retrospective. There is a lot of work that has been left out, like your wax paintings of the 70s, the velvet painting from the 80s or those that were exhibited at the Carmen barracks in Seville in 1988″, explains the curator. That is precisely one of the exhibitions that Julian Schnabel has the most affection for, who also remembers his time by Tabakalera, in San Sebastian, in 2007. Now it’s time for Malaga, with many ingredients to make it unforgettable. Among them, an inauguration with hardly any works to show.

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