Photography By Ben Ritter
In St. Moritz, the luxury alpine resorttown in Switzerland’s Engadin Valley, it’s normally the snow that gets all the attention during the winter. But don’t be surprised this season if you hear a lot more people talking about clouds—or at least paintings of them, anyway. A never-before-seen exhibition of Francesco Clemente’s work is currently on display at the Vito Schnabel Gallery, with the sleek top floor containing six new oversize paintings of clouds and the old, cavernous ground floor, a relic from the 19th century, exhibiting a series of frescos Clemente created in Rome, a technique the artist has been investigating since the 1980s.
Schnabel, a seasoned gallerist despite the fact that he’s only 33 (he started in the business at just 16, showing a group exhibition in his hometown of New YorkCity), is particularly bright-eyed about the Clemente exhibition. “It was kind of a big deal for us because I think he’s such a great painter and someone I’ve wanted to work with for a long time, and this is our first show together,” Schnabel explains. It was, perhaps, a long time coming: Schnabel has known the 67-year-old artist for many years, having gone to school with his children at Saint Ann’s in Brooklyn. Still, like any other gallerist, he had to convince the painter to display his work. The result was a show with Clemente at Schnabel’s New York gallery, followed by an additional exhibitionin St. Moritz. “It’s two separate exhibitions just so it can give people a wide range of what he’s been up to in the last two years,” Schnabel says.
Clemente’s exhibition in Switzerland will be give way to one by Markus Lüpertz, which will include 15 years of work by the German painter, from the ’90s to current day. Due to the amount of labor and care it takes to put on these exhibitions, Schnabel is a familiar face in St. Moritz. “I’m always in and out, so if I’m in Europe, I go there for basically half of the duration of the show.”
St. Moritz is a see-and-be-seen destination for the jet set and has hosted the Winter Olympics twice—it is also the site of the Cresta Run, a world-championship bobsled run made of natural ice, and a frozen lake that hosts polo and cricket. But these weren’t the things that drew Schnabel to the location for his second gallery (he opened his first on Clarkson Street in 2013). In fact, it wasn’t even the first place he thought of.“I was looking for a space outside of New York, and I was looking in San Francisco; there were very few from New York that had opened there, and I felt it was a space where I knew people, and it was an interesting city and an interesting time, and it is still today. I felt there was a void I could fill,” Schnabel says. “But Bruno Bischofberger, who is a mentor and a friend and someone I try to spend as much time with as possible as he’s a well of knowledge and information, said, ‘I think I’m going to close my gallery in St. Moritz. Would you want it? But I need to know soon.’ And I called him back in three hours and said, ‘I’ll take it.’"
Schnabel had spent time in St. Moritz and Switzerland before. “It seemed like a place that had a rich history of art and great galleries,” he says, but, most importantly to him, opening his own space there “made sense because a lot of the artists I wanted to show who maybe I couldn’t show in New York at that time could work with me there. I wanted to have a platform in Europe to show art.”
With seven years under his belt in New York and now five years in St. Moritz, Schnabel is eyeing a new project, although for now he’s labeling it “temporary”: the conversion of the oldest post office in Santa Monica to a 15,000-square-foot gallery space, which he’ll oversee for the next 10 months. This year, Schnabel will curate shows with artists such as Clemente, Pat Steir and Ariana Papademetropoulos and take private appointments.Schnabel shrugs humbly and smiles.“We’ll see if it lasts longer.”