The Brant Foundation Art Study Center, Greenwich, Conn.
Through mid-March

Julian Schnabel is “back with a vengeance,” said Justin Jones in Eleven years after the former bad boy of American art last had a collection exhibited in his home country, his billionaire friend Peter Brant is hosting a 50-piece show in Connecticut that offers a survey of Schnabel’s 40-year career and reminds visitors what all the fuss was once about. Schnabel, who’s become almost better known as a film director, rocketed to fame in 1979 when a New York gallery show of his large-scale paintings sold out before it even opened. The Brooklyn-born artist, then in his late 20s, set shards of broken plates on every canvas or panel, sometimes layering more paint over the wreckage. His “over-the-top and narcissistic persona” soon enough turned off the art world, but it didn’t stop him from working. “Like any tried-and-true creative force, Schnabel kept producing.”

The enduring works here are “far outnumbered by the misses,” said Andrew Russeth in Schnabel returned many times to using shattered pottery in his paintings, but in his large portraits of his wife-to-be and of model Stephanie Seymour (Brant’s wife), the result is “the sort of kitsch you’d expect to pick up in a crafts shop in Austin.” Schnabel has enough of an eye that he can make a compelling sculpture from just a chunk of sea-foam-colored Styrofoam and a feather. But he never has matched the early broken-plate paintings, five of which hang in one sunlit gallery. “These are undeniably captivating artworks, churning with psychological energy.” If you didn’t know that one of the great blowhards of the 1980s made them, “you might assume they’re the work of a folk bricoleur.”

Whatever form Schnabel’s paintings take, they’re linked by “a kind of signature seductiveness,” said Rozalia Jovanovic in He’s often worked on lush surfaces like velvet, or rendered images in a blend of paint and “unctuous” wax. Unfortunately, he’s changed styles so often that he comes across as “too easily delighted by the new and just as easily bored by it.” Still, it could be argued that no other artist of his generation “has placed such importance on the act of painterly gesture,” said Bradley Rubenstein in ArtSlant. Schnabel makes his role as the creator manifest in every image, yet not because of ego. He seems instead to want to remind us that every attempt to express oneself also underlines the individual’s “tragic separateness from others in the world.”