Anne Philippi meets Julian and Vito Schnabel

Julian & Vito Schnabel
©Collage / Julia Zierer

Artists amongst themselves: a close and special relationship between father and son. Anne Philippi met Julian and Vito Schnabel at their Palazzo Chupi

I’m standing for a while in front of a pink house. It reminds me of my cream blush by Bobbi Brown. The “house” is Palazzo Chupi and it belongs to the Schnabel family. A palace that Julian Schnabel named after his ex-wife Olatz, who he gave the nickname Chupi to in reference to the Spanish lollipop brand Chupa Chups from Piloña, Austurias that he likes so much. I’m not at all interested in the lollipop maker, but rather about the relationship between Julian Schnabel and his art dealer son Vito Schnabel. Julian Schnabel doesn’t call his son an art dealer, by the way, but rather a “gourmet” – someone who “tastes and judges for other people.”

We sit down in Vito’s section of Palazzo Chupi on a small sofa. Vito and Julian both immediately assume this concentrated, masculine posture: elbows on the knees, upper body forward, trunk too, gaze directed straight ahead at the wall opposite. The biggest resemblance between the Schnabels is, incidentally, their frown. Both wrinkle up in the same way, almost aggressively, definitely synchronous. That must point to love.

I’m sitting opposite the pair and feel a Finding Nemo energy. The big fish father Marlin, in this case Julian, is worrying about the little fish, his son Nemo, in this case Vito, however in an exaggerated way. Nemo was raised extremely sheltered and brought up a bit strictly. Yet, the love between father and son changes the two: Nemo recognizes life’s dangers and Marlin sees how successful his son can be when he stops hovering.

Do we want to start with the topic of “fights” between father and son? Of course, we’ll do that, says Julian. He says there’s never a fight between the two, practically ever. So let’s put it this way: there would be fights, but neither Vito nor Julian are going to tell me which artists they were about. Ah ha. Now Julian’s frowning. The wide-set shoulders prepare themselves, he needs more protection in life than Vito, who sits there in a very fine suit as if every meeting in life is an appointment. Vito’s face, however, is more feminine and puckers less often.

I’d really like to know if Vito is a rebel? Julian doesn’t think so. At the age of 16, Vito came to him and said “dad, I want to curate,” and then he worked for him. Carrying works and such. Vito holds himself back and nods a bit. I believe that he had a really great childhood and Julian believes that, too. Julian says that he really gave his son all the most important experiences in the life of an American boy. Even a few double lives.

“On trips to Europe you had all the experiences of a typical American boy. And that of a luxury traveler who sleeps in five-star hotels, eats ice cream, and that of a five-year-old who grew up with bullfighters in Spain.” Julian speaks about his upbringing as if it included everything that could fit into a son.

And then Vito cut in firmly, whereby he didn’t look at Julian. The father, I must understand, didn’t have it easy. That I must make clear. He didn’t have anything, not a cent, was a taxi driver, a cook at Max’s Kansas City, the whole night long. “He was on his own, that was always his attitude,” says Vito, correcting his masculine posture and now placing his elbows on his thighs, and we sit in silence for about a minute during which Vito and Julian don’t look at each other.

We can’t talk about love or about what love looks like in Palazzo Chupi. We don’t know each other well enough for that. Another two minutes and then still carry on talking about shoes? This general, neutral, emotionless topic. It’s always a distraction. From everything. But not at the Schnabels. Yes, Julian wanted to consult Vito about which shoes he should wear out. “But obviously we don’t dress the same,” says Julian. “Not so far,” says Vito. Perhaps that’s a form of love in Palazzo Chupi.


Julian & Vito Schnabel