For most of this past Saturday afternoon, Julian Schnabel stood at the entrance of Richard Artschwager's show at Chelsea Gagosian, which cohabitates the space with Julian's new paintings, chatting up gallery director Ealan Wingate and generously meeting and greeting weekend art fans.
"He must be trying to raise cash for his new flick," jibed one cynic.
His face floridly tanned from his Oscar-timed opening on the left coast, his heavy corpus framed by a giant blue greatcoat, Julian leaned on a long black cane with a pearl handle, working hard at what he does, being a star.
In the past 100 years, the century of celebrity and the century of war, only five artists have crossed into the golden shadows of world renown: Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol and Schnabel.
Often the art world has preferred more talented standard bearers -- Henri Matisse, Marcel Duchamp, de Kooning, Lichtenstein and Koons. But for reasons of reticence or lack of oomph, these and all others have failed the glamour test.
So being a star and maintaining the spotlight is a rare, rare thing in the art world, even more exclusive than in the orbits of sports, politics, Hollywood and the media.
Schnabel has been ridiculed in the art world for decades, for his premature '80s retro at the Whitney, for his pretentious autobiography, for preening in his excellent film Basquiat, and, most recently in last Friday's Times for his atrocious painting.
Yet even the Times backhandedly acknowledged Julian's charisma, by comparing him to a true auteur, Alfred Hitchcock.
What has his Teflon star status taught Julian Schnabel?
First, that life is an irrational mess, upon which he must constantly make his messy mark.
His '90s portraits of family friends and his current giant eyeless female heads were, according to Julian, created for one reason only: so he could then blot out parts of the paintings with one bold streak of paint per picture, like pissing off the back porch into the river.
Secondly, everything must be big, big, big, if only to glorify the artist's mortal vulnerability. It's not about esthetic badness, but about opening an operatic wound from which the public can drink.
Felix Gonzalez-Torres' current posthumous show at Andrea Rosen tetchily reminds us from the grave that we are all going to die, with the catch phrase, "It's a matter of time."
To which Schnabel alternatively replies, "So what?" or "Come and get me, if you can."
One should not underestimate the power of stardom on other, far less known artists.
There's a painter, a Texan like Schnabel, named Giles Lyon, who opens at Feigen Contemporary on April 18. His entire mission is to synthesize Warhol's Pop palette with Pollock's swirling, manly gelatos.
Similarly, you can find Picasso deep inside the head of Elizabeth Murray or Salvador Dalí profounding influencing Inka Essenhigh or Warhol animating Jack Pierson.
Do not discount the power of the five stars on the romantic egoist in his or her studio.
For that reason alone, Julian Schnabel will weasel into many creative heads long after he's gone -- on Saturday, he was greeting many of them, one at a time.
That's the satisfaction of being on top, whether or not artistic garbage lies beneath.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).