Café Dolly : PICABIA, SCHNABEL, WILLUMSEN
Deliberate disregard for accepted art movements, sovereignty of fancy and freedom to provoke are just a few of the characteristics that unite Francis Picabia, Julian Schnabel and J.F Willumsen.
Rejecting categorization by art world critics, these bad boys, employ unrestrained strategies of appropriation, pastiche, disorder and kitsch.
Schnabel, the sole artist of the trio still living and causing trouble, was happy to have the space provided by the two story atrium of the Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale to display three of his large scale works including two monumental variations of “Girl with no eyes”
Originally presented, at the J.F. Willumsen Museum near Copenhagen, “Café Dolly”: Picabia, Schnabel, Willumsen, derived it’s title, from the café where the exhibitions curators often met. Dolly was the name of the first cloned mammal, a female domestic sheep. The event caused outrage by some, sparking questions of identity, authenticity and ethics, the same questions may come up when discussing works by, Francis Picabia, Julian Scnabel and J.F. Willumsen.
Both Picabia and Willumsen were born at the turn of the century, when photography liberated artists from representational concerns and allowed them to explore questions of art more profoundly.
It was an era of isms, Fauvism, Futurism, Cubism etc. Both artists flirted with modern art movements, accepting and then rejecting them.
At the age of 28, Willumsen penned a mini manifesto on a small primitive sketch of his pregnant wife, that read:
“Old art has an old language that we’ve slowly come to understand.
New art has a new language that one has to learn to understand.”
The young artist addressed religious and sociopolitical issues in a grand scale painting made early in his career.“The Wedding of the Kings Son” was rejected by critics at the time, thus relegating it to obscurity for 60 years. At the end of the artists career, he revisited his old friend and modified the painting extensively, with the maturity and philosophy of an older, wiser, often misunderstood artist.
The final iteration of the large scale painting resembles the product, of the surrealist game, Exquisite Corpse. Each section seems to have been painted without the benefit of seeing the rest of the picture. With it’s juxtaposition of traditional academic, and brazen contemporary artistic styles, this painting could serve as bookends to a career spanning over 70 years.
Francis Picabia, was a fringe participant of twentieth century avante garde movements, a prolific artist who was in constant search of new ways to paint. He was an early leader in the Dadaist movement, but later ostracized by it’s followers when he declared “Dada” dead, criticizing it’s members, for taking themselves too seriously.
Works in this exhibition, focus on the artist’s later years, a time when he breezed through many different styles, seeking notoriety and frustrating critics who used terms like, embarrassing and boring. His figurative works appropriated pop culture icons and images from girlie magazines. In the years before his death Picabia painted abstract works featuring random dots and pure color. “Point” and “La terre est ronde” are on view in this exhbition
Julian Schnabel, is an artist who is still exploring critical question of art, and we see this in a broad retrospective of the artists works to date. Schnabel,s oeuvre ranges from figurative to abstraction but like Picabia, it is never linear. On view, are early works, from the painted plate and resin series as well as more recent Grand Scale figurative and abstract works.
While exploring the rationality of painting and its’s place in history, artists often turn introspective, painting self portraits that examine their own existence.
In a 1933 “Self-Portrait” Willumsen depicted himself in a painters smock, spattered with remnants of his latest works. The artist stands before a blank white canvas with the plaintive gaze of a martyr.
In the “Titian Dying Trilogy”, Willumsen stages his own death and then resurrection. “The Riddle of the Heavens”, the third picture of the trilogy, depicts Willumsen’s body merged with that of a tiger. Meditations of life and death are pondered as he floats awkwardly, in an unknown atmosphere.
A 2004 untitled “Self-Portrait” by Julian Schnabel reflects the artists ego, as he considers himself, Velasquez. Schnabel stands, as the Spanish master, with his monumental canvas taking up half of the picture plane. Rather than the little princess and her court, Schnabel focuses all of the attention onto the artist, himself.
In “Self Portrait” 1940-42 Francis Picabia pictures himself in a ménage á trois. The dramatic lighting and intense colors in this painting are motifs the artist often sourced from soft porn magazines of the day. Although Picabia dismissed any affiliation with the surrealist movement, associations could be deduced, particularly in several smaller pencil drawings also on display.
The artists in this exhibition are extremely independent, painting as they wished without following any particular fashion or school. The exhibition is curated by visual artists, Claus Carstensen and Christian Vind, along with Ann Gregersen PHD, researcher at the University of Copenhagen and J.F. Willumsen Museum.
In bringing works by Picabia, Schnabel and Willumsen together, the curators create a cohesive exhibition through related themes and wall text drawing out similarities.
With some 75 works on display, there is a broad view of technical styles by these artists. They range from the masterful to the unpolished. Some falling into the category of “bad painting” as described by Marcia Tucker, founding director of the New Museum in 1978 when she wrote for the exhibition catalog “Bad Painting” :
“The artists whose work will be shown have discarded classical drawing modes in order to present a humorous, often sardonic, intensely personal view of the world.”
Picabia, Schnabel and Willumsen, bad boys, bad painting.