The Julian Schnabel fine art revival commenced at Sperone Westwater Tuesday night when Al Pacino hurried through the opening in a houndstooth overcoat and electroshock hair. Savvily, the gallery has priced the "Navigation Drawings," which Schnabel wished to sell at $100,000 apiece, at a bargain basement price of $60,000 each, loss leaders for the anticipated auction boom in Schnabelia.
To own a work by Schnabel is not really owning a work of art. It is more like having a souvenir from the circus. The ringmaster himself was giving a tour of the drawings, as the usual crowd of hangers-on littered the room: Harvey Keitel, Dick Cavett, Charlie Rose. Pointing at the blobs of flesh and yellow paint with which he defaced a map of Hawaii, Schnabel announced to the crowd that he had been inspired by a sunset.
Indeed, each map seemed to correspond to a place Julian had personally explored for the purpose of later depositing a colored turd on its corresponding map. Island of Grenada had two large yams. Port Shepstone, a finger-painted squall. East China Sea an abstract red dragon.
Adding to the fun, one can actually read the maps, which date from the 1950s and are stamped "Not to be Used for Navigation" (because they are outmoded by the shifting seas), for ironic verbal aperçus such as "Cape Flattery" and "Unexploded Ordnance," two phrases which nicely sum up the Schnabel persona.
In a Sperone side room, Schnabel has placed three larger topographical maps, drenched beautifully in purple. Otherwise, most of his marks are as perfunctory as logs in the bog. But to have a piece of the mark of the master, a souvenir of some passing impression from Old Rotundo is supposed to be satisfaction enough. He has a beautiful building, a gorgeous family, a fine new movie and a chorus line of celebrity admirers. We should be happy to take home an old map smeared with fingerpaint, at whatever the cost. Pass the popcorn.
"Julian Schnabel: Navigation Drawings," Jan. 8-Feb. 16, 2008, at Sperone Westwater, 415 West 13th Street, New York, N.Y. 10014
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).