A story about artist Julian Schnabel last month said Schnabel's paintings sell for more than $60,000. His dealer, Mary Boone, says Schnabel paintings usually sell for between $25,000 and $60,000. It was also stated incorrectly that British advertising agent Charles Saatchi had used Boone's gallery for an exhibition of his own paintings. Mary Boone was also quoted as calling Anina Nosei "a rival SoHo dealer." While that description is correct, the words were not Boone's. CAPTION: Picture, "Notre Dame" (1979), by Julian Schnabel; oil, wax and dinner plates on panel. Picture 2, Art dealer Mary Boone, Copyright (c) Bob Kiss, 1983
The Hyping of the Artist: Part I
Not since Andy Warhol popped on the scene in the '60s has an artist made such a splash as Julian Schnabel.
But while Warhol made an artful pun out of advertising and promotion, Schnabel and his dealer, Mary Boone, have turned it around and used advertising and promotion to sell his work in the bottom-line '80s, stirring quite a controversy in the small and fastidious New York art world.
And they've done it quickly.
Six years ago the big, barrel-chested artist was doing odd-jobs around New York's SoHo. Less than four years ago, after visiting Antonio Gaudi's fantastic mosaics in Spain, Schnabel returned to New York and created a sort of American version of Gaudi. What Schnabel did was smash a set of dinner plates; then he applied them to large panels dripping with oil and wax. Schnabel had created something new in a world starved for innovation. And it wasn't too long before it attracted the attention of Boone, a young dealer with a powerful will to succeed. The paintings sold for $3,000, then $4,500, then $12,000.
Today, after three years of relentless publicity--not to mention controversy, champagne, cobra-skin shoes, collectors and curators--Schnabel is 31 and on top of the art world. His works command more than $60,000 each, according to Boone, who is also 31, and there's a long list of prospective buyers. Even in today's heady market for new art, few artists can get more than $10,000 for their work; by all accounts, Schnabel's prices are the highest among the young generation.
He's dominating the museum circuit, too. One of his paintings was on view in the Hirshhorn's recent show, "Directions 1983," and he's one of the few artists to have been represented in both the 1981 and 1983 Whitney Biennial, the prestigious exhibition of current American art, on view here through Sunday.
The Hyping of the Artist: Part II
However Boone and Schnabel did it, having pushed his work to the top, they intend to keep it there. To give impatient collectors a chance to get around the waiting list, the first of his "early" paintings, from late 1979, will be auctioned here tonight at Sotheby's.
Boone is not hedging her bets. She's certain, she said recently, that the work will bring more than $100,000.
"I am not at all anxious about it," she said, referring to Schnabel's auction debut. "And I will not have to protect it," she said, referring to the bidding. Dealers sometimes bid on their own artist's work at auction to make sure it doesn't fall below market value.
"Notre Dame" (1979), a hefty work combining bold brush strokes and big bits of broken crockery, is one of the key lots in the auction of post-World War II art, which also includes the collection of Vincent Melzak, past president of the Corcoran Gallery, and several other recent works by colleagues of Schnabel. Sotheby's is so excited about "Notre Dame" that it sent out a separate news announcement more than two months ago. While not as ambitious as Boone, the auction house believes the picture will fetch more than $50,000. Even though auctions generally are reserved for mature works that have been thoroughly test-marketed, Sotheby's director of contemporary art, Lucy Havelock Allen, believes now is the time to auction a Schnabel. "I don't see why we should wait around. There's demand and there's no supply."
On the face of it, there is nothing unusual about an auction of a much-sought-after picture. What makes this offering unusual is the heated controversy stirred by the sale, and by the Schnabel-Boone phenomenon. Mention the picture, the artist or the dealer to anyone in the big-money New York art world, and you will get a strong response. There is much disagreement and confusion about the whole subject.
"Not a day goes by that I don't hear the names Boone and Schnabel," complained a prominent dealer who asked to remain anonymous. "That's it . . . Boone, Schnabel and Israel . . . the three hot topics."
"It's hype--clear hype. The worst hype since the South Sea Bubble," blasted Time magazine's Robert Hughes in an early article on the Boone-Schnabel phenomenon. "Boone's artists are united only in mediocrity."
Even Phyllis Rosenzweig, the curator who included Schnabel's pieces in the Hirshhorn exhibition, acknowledges that Schnabel's work has been "marred" by hype, although she maintains that the work itself is "significant. My only reservation was that people would think that I'd included him because of the hype."
Hype or not, there are some facts about the Schnabel-Boone partnership. First, there's the matter of Boone's intricate ties with about a half dozen other art dealers. Prominent in this group is Leo Castelli, 75, the dean of contemporary art dealers. In fact, many Saturday gallery goers have discovered that exhibitions in Castelli's gallery are often of Boone's artists--and vice versa. A prominent Australian curator recently complained that he found it somewhat difficult to work with Boone because there were so many other people involved in the deals.
Then there's the matter of the painting itself. Schnabel once owned "Notre Dame" and had a hand in placing it for auction. When he heard that another SoHo dealer, Anina Nosei, had consigned "The Patients and the Doctors," another of his early broken-plate pictures, to be auctioned, he called Nosei and asked her to make a trade.
"I told her we'd made a deal," said Schnabel. "She said she wouldn't sell 'The Patients and the Doctors' without first offering it to me." So Nosei, who will get the proceeds from tonight's sale, traded Schnabel "Patients" for "Notre Dame," the picture now on the block.
And finally, there's the matter of the media and Mary Boone. Over the past several years, Boone has been the subject of more than 10 major magazine articles. New York magazine dubbed her "The New Queen of Art" and lauded her champagne tastes (vintage Dom Perignon and 200 pairs of Susan Bennis/Warren Edwards shoes).
"I got the publicity because of my good artists," said Boone. "There's Julian . . ."
One of her oldest and closest friends is the British advertising genius Charles Saatchi, president of Saatchi & Saatchi Compton Worldwide, the eighth largest advertising firm in the world. Saatchi, who used Boone's SoHo gallery last November for an exhibition of his own paintings, ran Margaret Thatcher's last campaign so successfully that Labor politicians sniffed that the prime minister was sold to Britain like a box of soap; he's running Thatcher's current campaign as well. The Hyping of the Artist: Part III
The day the Schnabel sale was announced, the SoHo phone wires were buzzing with avarice.
Rene Ricard, the poet and critic who claims to have discovered Schnabel, was ecstatic. " 'The Patients and the Doctors' will surely bring $100,000," he exclaimed, still under the impression that picture had been consigned. "This means I'll be rich. I own lots of Schnabels."
But Castelli, the dealer who has helped Boone with Schnabel, was not sure what to think. First, over the phone early that day, he said: "I am surprised that the Schnabel is up at auction. If someone who bought it for a few thousand dollars wants to make a neat profit, that's fine for them. This is not the time to auction this painting 'Patients' ; it's not good for the artist or the market."
Castelli, who has guided the careers of many of the most successful artists of the '60s--Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Warhol--has had a lot of experience developing six-figure prices for contemporary art. "It takes time," he said.
Apparently, between the time of that phone conversation and an interview later in the day at his SoHo gallery, Castelli learned that "The Patients and the Doctors" had been exchanged for "Notre Dame," and he, with Boone and Schnabel nearby, had a different view: "We are excited about the sale, not anxious," he said, without explanation, "And we are sure the painting will bring a lot . . . maybe even $65,000."
"$75,000, $100,000," said Boone, who was standing at Castelli's side. "You see, what happened was that the person who owned this picture, Anina Nosei, a rival SoHo dealer, felt, as I felt, that I could only offer her what the market would bear, $40,000 or so. But if we sent it to auction then it would go much higher."
"I don't know if I own this picture," said Anina Nosei, the rival dealer. "Maybe I do. But I don't want to talk about it. I can't even own or like a Schnabel. People always pester me about selling it. Why don't you ask me about poetry or ideas--not money."
"Who cares who owns the picture," exclaimed another SoHo dealer who also owns a Schnabel. Reflecting the confusion, he said, "It's probably owned by five different people."
"This is lovely," the dealer added. "This means I will make money on mine."
"One-hundred-thousand dollars for a recent painting by an artist whose reputation is not firmly established!" exclaimed another dealer, who also asked to remain anonymous. "Why, you can buy a decent Picasso for that much money, and know you've made a sound investment." The Hyping of the Artist: Part IV
And how does Julian Schnabel feel about his first plate painting going on the block?
"Okay," he said, while supervising the installation of a slightly funereal looking Egyptian-style sculpture. "I mean, like, I was involved in this one, and it's okay by me if they auction it."