Mr. Schnabel was born in 1986, when his father was already an art-world superstar thanks to the efforts of dealers Mary Boone and Leo Castelli. He looks, at times, eerily like his father when he was still fresh faced. Even today, the two sport the same greased-back hairdo. He grew up around art but didn’t start paying attention to it until he was a teenager. He was more interested in sports. He is still known for his athletic chops, as anyone who attended a basketball game on a hotel rooftop during last year’s Art Basel Miami Beach will tell you. The players included the artist Rashid Johnson; Mike Homer, director of David Kordansky Gallery and a former college basketball player; Gagosian director Sam Orlofsky; and Mr. Schnabel. For the first game, Mr. Homer and Mr. Schnabel were on the same team, but they had to be separated. It wasn’t fair to the other players.
When he was 16, Mr. Schnabel curated a group show in a 10,000-square-foot warehouse with 25-foot-high ceilings. He included work by more obscure figures, like the artist duo McDermott and McGough, Jorge Galindo and his sister Lola.
“I didn’t really know exactly what I was doing,” Mr. Schnabel said. “But I was connecting the dots. The show opened and all of a sudden a couple things sold. I didn’t know what to do with that. I’d never made an invoice before. And that was kind of cool. I just picked up some change. And it all kicked off from there.”
Today, dealer/collector Alberto Mugrabi, known for his family’s vast Warhol holdings, is among Mr. Schnabel’s collectors. He told The Observer that the young dealer was “instrumental” in introducing him to certain younger artists in his collection. Mr. Schnabel, he added, is “not like a salesperson. He’s more of an artistic mind.”
Not long after the first group show, he organized an exhibition of works by Ron Gorchov in the same space (250 Hudson). Mr. Gorchov had disappeared from public view about 20 years before. The retrospective of paintings from 1972 to 2005 is largely credited with rescuing the artist from potential obscurity; its curator was not yet old enough to drink legally.
It was not until the 2010 Brucennial, coinciding with the Whitney Museum’s Biennial and held at the Aby Rosen-owned 350 West Broadway, that people started to take notice of Mr. Schnabel as something more than the promising son of a famous artist. Press for the show boasted “420 artists from 911 countries working in 666 disciplines.” That should be taken with a grain of salt—the show was organized with the tricksters of Bruce High Quality—but the space was packed with all kinds of art. The show was an alternative to the Whitney’s, which also included work by the Bruces. The Brucennial consisted of a patchwork of contemporary art from the past few decades. Crammed inside were pieces by the likes of George Condo, Mr. Gorchov, James Nares and Julian Schnabel; they filled the space floor to ceiling. Some critics praised the show as more interesting and impressive than what was going on uptown.
“Vito’s decision to forgo a fixed exhibition space is a big part of why we are comfortable working with him,” Bruce High Quality Foundation said in an email message (the foundation does interviews only by email to remain anonymous and “because our public statements are discussed by a group”). “Context is part of the work. Vito is of the same mind on that. We don’t just assume a Chelsea white box is the perfect venue for all the things we’d want to do.” (Regardless, Bruce High Quality has shown at the gallery Susan Inglett in Chelsea.) “We might need a theater. We might need an outdoor garden. We might need a spaceship.”
When asked if it was comfortable showing work at Sotheby’s, whose own inflatable rat out front signifies something much different from their installation in Venice, Bruce High Quality said “an exhibition at Sotheby’s was not a crisis of conscience for us. We agreed to participate because we see much of the work we contributed to ‘These Days’ as ultimately about how artists understand their historical relationship to social change. We hope visitors to the show see that, and that it helps them think more deeply about their own human stake when they walk back on the street.”