press release

Legion of Honor
100 34th Ave
San Francisco, CA 94121

Julian Schnabel. Symbols of Actual Life
21.04.2018 - 05.08.2018
Opening reception : 19.04.2018 18:00 20:30
Julian Schnabel in Conversation with Max Hollein, open to the public with RSVP

“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

Julian Schnabel’s 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 sails, tarpaulins, and velvet. Images, names, and fragments of language; and thickly applied paint, resin, and digital reproductions are distributed across surfaces and support.

Over 30 years since the artist’s last exhibition in a US West Coast institution, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco present Julian Schnabel: Symbols of Actual Life, featuring a new body of work created specifically for the Legion of Honor’s outdoor courtyard and three series of rarely-before-seen paintings from the past three decades. 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."

Placed around the vast colonnade of the museum’s neoclassical outdoor 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. A recent series of abstractions are painted on found tarpaulin, 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 19th 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.

Julian Schnabel: Symbols of Actual Life is organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, as part of its contemporary art program, which creates dialogues between living artists and the buildings, locations and collections of the Legion of Honor and de Young.

Major support for the exhibition is provided by Almine Rech Gallery, Blum & Poe, Deutsche Bank, Pace Gallery, and Vito Schnabel Gallery and members of the Contemporary Support Council of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.