Julian Schnabel’s Painting Encapsulates the Entire History of Painting, and Some Other Stuff Julian Schnabel Told Me In His Ex-Wife’s Living Room Last Night
by “David Shapiro”
right now, me and mike and nate are drinking white wines at a party in the living room of Julian Schnabel’s ex-wife’s townhouse on 11th street and mike’s chewing on a leg of lamb that he says is the manliest hors d’oeuvre he’s ever eaten. there are huge pieces of art lining the walls in here, like fifteen-foot-tall paintings and sculptures, and also a tribal headdress balanced on a stand in a corner. the room is uncomfortably crammed with really beautiful people who are ready to party, mostly like 28-year-old millionairesses in wispy gowns with French accents who can look down and see the top of my head
Naomi Campbell is here too and i go up to her and say “hi i’m david — can i ask you a quick question please?” and she says “sure!” and i ask “what’s your favorite record?” and she says “hmmmm… i’d have to say Bob Marley!” and then i say “…but which record?” and she thinks for a second and goes “whichever one the…” and then cuts herself off and goes “LEGEND!!” and i wanna tell Naomi Campbell i love that record too but she has already disappeared
i go back to mike and nate and tell them the stock joke about Bob Marley’s Legend, which is that for anyone who only has 10 CD’s, Legend is one of them. then Julian Schnabel walks in, fat like my dad, wearing a shirt unbuttoned about halfway down with his chest hair billowing out, and a brown blazer and athletic pants that look very stretchy and comfortable, and red slip-on Vans. his hair is slicked back with gel and his eyebrows might be too.
Julian Schnabel pushes through the crowd trying to get to the room behind us and he gets right up near me and the people he’s trying to push through won’t budge so he decides to wait until a path clears. he stands there because he can’t move and he looks around and then looks at me and shakes my hand and says “how are you?” and i look at him quizzically and think for a second and say “stable, how are you?” but then he doesn’t answer me because he’s finally pushed through the people he wanted to push through. when he’s gone, mike and nate look at me incredulously and mike says “do you know him?” and nate says “why did he shake your hand?” and i say “i’ve never seen him before — i guess i was just the nearest person to him who he hadn’t met yet?”
then we go downstairs because the living room is too crowded with people trying to talk to Julian Schnabel, and i get a Pellegrino at the bar because i shouldn’t drink on my medication, and we stand around admiring the art. even the art in the bathrooms here is really sick i think. mike interviews a socialite who apparently popularized the hipster headband. Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner’s son Theo Wenner is here too and he walks near me and i say “hi!” because i interviewed him one time (i don’t think he liked me but what do i have to lose by just saying hi you know?), but his mouth is full of food so he makes the sound that “muhhghgh” sound people make when their mouths are full of food but they’re trying to say “hi david!” and then he looks away and keeps walking. a few minutes later, nate looks across the room and sees Theo Wenner smoking indoors and says “wow, Theo Wenner’s smoking inside! that’s going in the notes!” and he takes out his notepad and jots it down. then we walk past Jacqueline Schnabel on our way to the bar, who’s also now smoking inside, and as we pass her, she says with mock-indignation “where is the MUSIC down here?!” and raises her arms and puts her palms out inquisitively. i want to be like “yo Jacquelin lemme just throw my iPod on” but it would be inappropriate, like she doesn’t even know i DJ parties
then me and mike go back upstairs for mike to interview Julian Schnabel. they talk for a while and Julian Schnabel tries to spoonfeed mike some chocolate mousse out of a little bowl during his interview, but mike declines it. then mike is finished interviewing him and i go up to Julian Schnabel and introduce myself to him, although we already met he probably doesn’t remember, and i ask him what his favorite drug is and he says “painting” because it takes him to another place or something like that. Julian Schnabel is like a big cuddly hairy bear, and he’s really nice to me but talks to me like an adult. when cameras flash around us, i can see that the lenses in his glasses are tinted yellow, perhaps literalizing the idea that he sees the world differently from regular people
i also notice that he has buttoned up his shirt so that now, less than 20% of his chest is exposed and i ask him why he buttoned it, “like is it because someone opened the door and there’s a draft in here [which there is]? or a style thing?” and he says mysteriously “i like to be comfortable.” i ask him what kind of occasion would compel him to wear dress shoes (everyone else here is dressed formally except us, and i just found out about this party like an hour ago, when mike invited me, so he’s the only one without an excuse) and he says that he used to wear dress shoes more but they’re uncomfortable. i nod and point to my sneakers and try to avoid thinking about the only Julian Schnabel-related thing i can think of, which is the Das Racist line where Victor says “more than a plate — paintings / Prodigy, more Picasso than Schnabel” but he pronounches it SCHNAY-ble so it rhymes
Julian Schnabel says he used to paint in a blue suit, because it made him feel more formal, and then go outside in pajamas (what a topsy-turvy world he was living in!!!), and people would always give him weird looks because he was wearing pajamas outside/in social situations. then i tell him i had a flannel i really liked but then one day someone pointed out that it was a pajama top and i realized they were right so i gave it to elizabeth and now she wears it
then some old dude interrupts Julian Schnabel as he’s talking to me and Julian Schnabel shakes the dude’s hand and then gets back to talking to me even though he has no real reason to, which is nice. he asks me if i like the painting behind him, which is made of 2 panels and depicts a crouching man with a turquoise aboriginal face on the right panel and some broken plates held together by auto-body paint/putty on the left panel. i tell him “i don’t know? i don’t really know anything about art…” which is true and then i say “did you make it?” and he nods
then he tells me to stop taking notes and spends 26 minutes (the amount of time between when i put my phone away and when i took it back out) leading me around his daughter’s house and trying to explain his paintings, which mostly have broken plates all over them, which are are hung up all around the rooms on this floor, and also one of Dan Colen’s paintings
at some point as we’re talking, i notice that every other guest at the party has migrated downstairs so it’s just me, Julian Schnabel, and two cocktail waitresses standing in his daughter’s living room as he explains his paintings to me. i notice the cocktail waitresses try to listen in and so i guess they’ve come to this Julian Schnabel party with some preexisting knowledge of Julian Schnabel. as we’re walking around and talking about art, i catch a glimpse of the permanent bump on my forehead, which my mom has been telling me to see a dermatologist about, in the reflection of a glass door leading out to the patio. i should get that removed soon
anyway so what i remember about the Julian Schnabel art tour (because i couldn’t take notes) is that Julian Schnabel says that painting is its own language, and i would be able understand his paintings if i understood the larger language of painting, and that all of his paintings are connected to each other and to all the paintings that have preceded them. he says that his paintings “take into account and encapsulate the entire history of painting” and, essentially, improve on it (i think he stated that point a little more delicately than i just did, but probably not much more delicately — Julian Schnabel loves his paintings. and why wouldn’t he?! based on the information i have, i can tell you they’re fucking awesome!)
he says some paintings are illusionistic and some are allusionistic and his are often both. i offer him an Ativan and he declines it. he tells me to read a book called The Recognitions by William Gaddis, which is apparently “a thick volume” but a worthwhile read. he speaks to me warmly and like a professor, like he cares whether i am listening and if i will remember what he’s saying, which i mostly do but learning about art is hard and i can’t remember everything. if you ever come across this Schnabel and you wanna talk more, i’m email@example.com
the second-to-last painting he shows me is a Dan Colen painting that looks like bird shit but isn’t actually bird shit. i guess this one is just illusionistic. he speaks in a derisive tone about the painting but doesn’t say anything actually negative about it. he touches Dan Colen’s painting with his fingers, moving his fingers over the birdshit lumps, and looks unimpressed. he asks me if i’ve heard of Dan Colen and i say “yeah because i read a lot about Dash Snow after he died.” as we’re standing next to the bird shit painting, i tell Julian Schnabel about the tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru, which is the fattest country in the world (97% of men and 93% of women are overweight or obese), because, re: the birdshit painting, the island’s chief export is guano, which is the excrement of bats, birds, and seals. the island got really rich off selling this shit to the rest of the world for fertilizer, and then the rest of the world repaid Nauru by making it the fattest country. Julian Schnabel is entertained
the last painting we look at is a painting that he told mike had never been publicly exhibited. here is a picture (taken later in the evening) of me, mike, and New York Magazine’s Jessica Pressler standing in front of it:
after he explains the paintings, he tells me to see his new movie MIRAL and i say “okay maybe” and he asks if i’ve seen any of his other movies, which he reels off in chronological order i think, and he gets up to Basquiat and i say “i saw that! that one was good” and he tells me to see MIRAL again, because if i liked Basqiat i might like it. he asks me if i’ve seen The Diving Bell and Butterfly and i tell him “no, it seemed really depressing”. he looks dismayed and tells me to see that one too
then we say goodbye because he has other party guests to attend to, some of whom have come upstairs to talk to him, and i go downstairs again, into the basement, and notice that a woman who mike has pointed out as a famous socialite is wearing a onesie jumpsuit and has a really deep wedgie. she must be thinking of ways to surreptitiously dislodge the wedgie right now.
then me and mike sit down at a table near a stately French female stylist who looks about 50 years old and she leans over to me and starts drunkenly telling me that people my age are changing the world right now and that i should follow my heart. mike takes that as his cue to slip away and then later says that drunk old rich women are always telling people our age to follow their hearts because that’s easy to say when you’re drunk and rich and old. i think about telling the stylist that in my estimation, stylists are like DJs but with clothes instead of music. like fashion designers are like bands because they make the clothes and then the stylists are like DJs because they choose the clothes people should wear. i know this isn’t really like a mindballer observation, i’m just saying
then i politely slip away from the stylist and find nate, but he’s leaving to go see LCD Soundsystem, so i find mike and Jessica Pressler again. Julian Schnabel walks past us with an old dude in a funky tan skullcap-like hat and he offhandedly tells me to see MIRAL for a third time and i say “can you give me like a DVD screener copy though?” and he says “come on, just go to the movies, it’s like $7 or $11” (it’s like $13.50 in NYC dude) and Jessica Pressler says to Schnabel “but look at him!” and gestures to the holes in my shirt. i know she didn’t mean it in a mean way, i think she just thought Julian Schnabel should have given me a DVD of MIRAL if he wanted me to see it so damn much
then me and mike and Jessica Pressler get our coats and take that picture that was up there and leave. a chauffer sits in a big Audi outside, the car idling, reading a book on his iPad, and i’m thinking “damn, even these peoples’ drivers read books!” then we split: mike walks home and Jessica Pressler gets in a cab and i go into the subway, the 14th Street A/C/E/L stop, the one with those weird little bronze sculptures, and i notice one of the sculptures (near the southernmost entrance to the Downtown A/C/E platform) has an unexpected little penis!, which i will leave you a picture of to cap off a night of artistic discovery:
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David “Shapiro” is 22 and lives in New York City and has a Tumblr.