Browse Lots

Global notice COVID-19 Important notice
Julian Schnabel (B. 1951)
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more
Julian Schnabel (B. 1951)

What Once Denoted Chaos is Now a Matter of Record

Julian Schnabel (B. 1951)
What Once Denoted Chaos is Now a Matter of Record
signed, titled and dated 'What once denoted chaos in now a matter of record January 1981 Julian Schnabel' (on the reverse of the left panel)
oil, ceramic plates, wall sconces and bondo on two panels
90 x 96 1/2 x 9 in. (228.6 x 245.1 x 22.8 cm.)
Executed in 1981.
Mary Boone Gallery, New York
Daniel Weinberg Gallery, San Francisco
Private collection, New York
Private collection, Tokyo
Anon. sale; Christie's, New York, 19 November 1997, lot 435
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
San Francisco, Daniel Weinberg Gallery, Julian Schnabel, 1982.
University of California, Berkeley Art Museum, Julian Schnabel, May-July 1982.
Special notice

On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. Where Christie's has provided a Minimum Price Guarantee it is at risk of making a loss, which can be significant, if the lot fails to sell. Christie's therefore sometimes chooses to share that risk with a third party. In such cases the third party agrees prior to the auction to place an irrevocable written bid on the lot. The third party is therefore committed to bidding on the lot and, even if there are no other bids, buying the lot at the level of the written bid unless there are any higher bids. In doing so, the third party takes on all or part of the risk of the lot not being sold. If the lot is not sold, the third party may incur a loss. The third party will be remunerated in exchange for accepting this risk based on a fixed fee if the third party is the successful bidder or on the final hammer price in the event that the third party is not the successful bidder. The third party may also bid for the lot above the written bid. Where it does so, and is the successful bidder, the fixed fee for taking on the guarantee risk may be netted against the final purchase price.

Third party guarantors are required by us to disclose to anyone they are advising their financial interest in any lots they are guaranteeing. However, for the avoidance of any doubt, if you are advised by or bidding through an agent on a lot identified as being subject to a third party guarantee you should always ask your agent to confirm whether or not he or she has a financial interest in relation to the lot.

Brought to you by

Saara Pritchard
Saara Pritchard

Lot Essay

There is perhaps no presence in the convoluted landscape of contemporary painting that has been the subject of so much critical derision as Julian Schnabel. The artist was an easy target for influential New York intelligentsia who preferred the chilly skepticism of Postmodernism to the brash, romantic brio of Schnabel’s sensational pictures. With little regard for painting’s poetics and incensed by the market’s oblivious coronation of Neo-expressionism, a legion of art critics decried the compulsion to apply paint to canvas. A number of polemical screeds emerged, notably Douglas Crimp’s glaring essay, “The End of Painting,” 1981. In the midst of this extremist intellectual climate, Schnabel began making paintings that would fry his detractors’ frustrated aesthetic sensibilities. As far as that party was concerned, the plate paintings were an act of war. But to read them as such is to overlook their serious ambition and compelling visual attitude. Today, the plate paintings are considered Schnabel’s most meaningful contribution to the history of art in the bewildering twilight of the twentieth century.

Of course, the Postmodern persuasion was only one movement among many in a vibrant city where competing strands of art have always comingled and flourished. In the late ‘70s, the rigorous asceticism of Minimalist and Conceptual art was shoved aside at Holly Solomon Gallery, where vivacious, raw expression was encouraged and Gordon Matta-Clark exhibited chunks of buildings. The New Museum held its cult classic Bad Painting exhibition in 1978, bestowing the cheeky iconoclasts Neil Jenney and William Copley with institutional acclaim. Schnabel’s paintings show an affinity for these departures from austerity, but retain a genuine sense of mysticism, if not in their treatment, than in their subject matter. For example, Schnabel’s Accatone, 1978, depicts a cracked sculpture of a man’s torso—headless, limbless and crudely rendered—on a pedestal before a fiery red field. While the image itself is objectively clumsy, the message is philosophically intriguing: collapsed with its biceps mid-flex, the sculpture’s show of strength is undermined by an apparent inability to withstand the sheer weight of time. This interpretation is especially satisfying when considering the challenging burden of history and self, and the way in which it relates not only to the artist’s practice, but also to the problems facing art at the onset of the ‘80s.

Schnabel’s plate paintings revisit the mysteries of the past while confronting those of the present. For instance, the arrangement of the broken vessels is visually reminiscent of archaeological sites, where shards of ancient pottery are carefully removed, salvaged from the wastes of time. Additionally, the all-over composition of the plate fragments creates a rhythmic web, recalling Pollock’s seminal drip paintings, which are themselves explorations of the infinite. Finally, the plate paintings are often portraits of living people, suggesting with an air of both melancholy and bravery the finite nature of human life. In all of these instances, brokenness facilitates a unified meaning, elegantly achieving the artist’s predetermined goal: “I wanted to make something that was exploding as much as I wanted to make something that was cohesive” (J. Schnabel, “Writings, July 11, 1986,” Julian Schnabel: Paintings, 1975-1986, exh. cat., Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, 1986, p. 96).

What Once Denoted Chaos is Now a Matter of Record is a quintessential example of the artist’s pioneering process. In addition to the broken plates, the artist attaches wall sconces to the over-saturated surface, recalling the anarchic combines of Robert Rauschenberg. The head of a turbaned man, evoking the mysticism of the Far East, dominates the right side of the picture plane; a harp and a floating head, possibly a self-portrait, occupy the left. Invocations of musicality and harmony conflict with the uneven, fragmented surface while the confused scale and coral hues conjure a whirling, ecstatic vision. The painting is at once serene and riotous. For this poetic balance alone, even his begrudging detractors must at last acknowledge the impact of Schnabel’s extreme approach to painting. As a certain critic remarked at the time, “They were vulgar in the extreme—melodramatic, derivative, rhetorical, kitschy—some of the most important aspects of contemporary culture” (M. Stevens, “Bull in the China Shop,” Newsweek, 11 May 1981, p. 79).

More from Bound to Fail

View All
View All