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Julian Schnabel's Little Pieces Add Up to More in L.A. Show


People love to hate Julian Schnabel's paintings and sculptures (along with his record album and movie), but doing so usually gets in the way of seeing this ambitious artist's works for what they are.

At PaceWildenstein Gallery, 13 paintings from the past 10 years and two sculptures from the 1980s reveal that Schnabel's art strives to combine the pompous grandiosity of Anselm Kiefer's paintings with the self-deprecatory sarcasm of Mike Kelley's work.

Powerful art is no stranger to making odd bedfellows--among both its influences and viewers. But Schnabel's first solo show in Los Angeles since 1987 fails to sustain this contradictory fusion because it does not consist of his best pieces. It's as if these works were selected simply because they were available--left over from previous shows.

From what's here, it appears that the New York-based artist's infatuation with the idea of Great Art gets in the way of his making individually compelling works. The stale air of official art history hangs over most of Schnabel's pieces, in which techniques employed by Cy Twombly and Sigmar Polke regularly appear, though stripped of their light touch and delicacy.

Elements of Philip Guston's ham-fisted caricatures are also present, but only after their malignant cartoonishness has been eliminated in favor of painterly maneuvers meant to be more serious.

The five smallest images--portraits painted over layers of broken plates, cups and saucers--are Schnabel's strongest works. Less ambitious and more successful than the rest of the pieces shown, they suggest that the best art is often made by accident, while striving to make Great Art is almost always a recipe for disaster.

* "Julian Schnabel: Selected Paintings" is on view through April 19 at PaceWildenstein, 9540 Wilshire Blvd. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. (310) 205-5522.

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