FOUR WORKS, FOUR YEARS, EIGHT WEEKS: Julian Schnabel Returns to the East Village

FOUR WORKS, FOUR YEARS, EIGHT WEEKS: Julian Schnabel Returns to the East Village

A larger than life figure, Julian Schnabel personifies - and slyly critiques - what it is to be a successful contemporary artist. He has achieved art world stature and mainstream celebrity through his art, his films, his commentary, and his well-documented lifestyle. Nevertheless, even cognoscenti are often unable to immediately conjure mental images that speak to the full scope and depth of Schnabel's work, with the exception perhaps of his figurative paintings incorporating broken crockery. While this myopia could be attributed in part to the artist's refusal to adhere to a single signature style throughout his four decade-long practice, public recognition of Schabel's numerous contributions to painting also have been obfuscated by his stardom.

With this contradiction in mind, Oko will present Julian Schnabel 1978-81, a pointed study of Schnabel's early work via a rotating exhibition of four emblematic paintings made in a period of explosive change for both the artist and the New York City art scene. Selected by independent curator Alison Gingeras, the four paintings will be shown sequentially beginning February 5, 2013. Each work will be presented individually in Oko's space for a two-week period in order to spotlight the artist's mastery and the development of his ideas and techniques in a seminal moment. The exhibition sheds light on the fearless experimentation of Schnabel's early career and suggests the profound influence he has had and continues to exert upon other artists.

While the four paintings in Julian Schnabel 1978 - 1981 have been widely reproduced in books and included in Schnabel's museum exhibitions outside the United States, they have been exhibited only rarely in New York City. Each one represents a distinct body of work or material gesture that Schnabel initiated during a time of breakthrough in his practice. Exuberant experimentation is a common denominator between the modeled wax surfaces of the veiled self-portrait "St. Sebastian" (1979); Schnabel's very first abstracted mosaic of ceramic shards and sculptural picture planes in "The Patient and The Doctors" (1978); the use of a soiled drop cloth as a pictorial ground in "The Mutant King" (1981); and the layering of fabric in the monochromatic "Blue Abstract Painting on Velvet" (1980).

In the years before the mid-1980s art market boom, Schnabel forged a pictorial language that embraced unconventional methods and materials with a visceral effect; he introduced to the American contemporary art scene a particularly European post-war sensibility through his admiration for such figures as Francis Picabia, Sigmar Polke and Blinky Palermo; and he broke with the prevailing conceptualism through figuration, personal narratives and references to history and mythology. His poetic use of found materials and his embrace of chance operations (whether dragging a canvas on the ground, allowing a drop cloth to absorb the environmental stains of the studio, or exposing the paintings to the forces of weather) has proven highly influential for a subsequent generation of artists, including Joe Bradley, Nate Lowman, Dan Colen, Wade Guyton, Urs Fischer and Lucien Smith among others. With the four paintings on view at Oko, visitors will enjoy an opportunity to connect the dots across decades and locate Schnabel's indelible mark on the evolution of art since the late 1970s.

Located in an East Village storefront, Oko (oko is the Russian word for 'eye') is an art exhibition space conceived by Alison Gingeras in collaboration with Luxembourg & Dayan gallery as a venue for curatorial experimentation. Deliberately modest in scale, this ground floor venue in a typical 19th century tenement building on East Tenth Street draws its inspiration from the iconoclastic spirit of the neighborhood and the district's history as an incubator for innumerable cultural breakthroughs. Oko's first project was organized in November 2012 with the artist Danny McDonald in the former vintage jewelry store Magic Fingers that previously occupied the storefront.

Oko is open to the public Thursday through Saturday, 12-6 and by appointment.