Julian Schnabel at Gagosian Gallery

Installation of Julian Schnabel’s Big Girl Paintings at Gagosian Gallery; courtesy artnet.com

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An 800-pound gorilla may get our attention, but does that mean it deserves it?

Julian Schnabel, who has seven new paintings and one new sculpture on display at the Chelsea branch of Gagosian Gallery, is still doing what he does best–that is, being Julian Schnabel. His recent series of pictures are typical in that they devote a preponderance of bluster to the scrawniest of conceits.

Collectively titled Big Girl Paintings, they’re based on a portrait of a woman the artist found in a thrift shop and subsequently defaced. I mention this only as a matter of journalistic duty–I mean, does anyone care what Mr. Schnabel paints? Mr. Schnabel certainly doesn’t; his epic self-regard has long since absolved him from such niceties as color, composition and questioning why the paintings are so goddamned big.

The art historian Robert Rosenblum, writing in the accompanying catalog, begs to differ and compares the pictures to Joan Miró. But the rest of us know better. People don’t go to a Schnabel show for art; they go for the spectacle.

That the current spectacle pairs Mr. Schnabel with Mr. Gagosian, the emperor of the contemporary scene, makes for a perversely compelling logic. Between the two of them, they add up to almost a ton of gorilla.

(c) 2002

Originally published in the April 21, 2002 edition of The New York Observer.

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