“THERE’S NO DOWNSIDE to being a Schnabel,” the young Mr. Schnabel previously told The Observer of his family. Of his relationship with his father, he has said, “We’re best friends; we travel the world looking at art and buying art. I help him and he helps me.” His father agreed: “I think we’re very close. I don’t just walk into his house, unless we have a plan to have a steam bath.” The father and son often utilize the building’s 44-foot swimming pool and steam room.
Covering most of the wall behind Mr. Schnabel is a large painting by his father, at least 8 feet wide, indecipherable words in script and a bird wing over a multi-hued color field. “He painted that around 1990, when my mom and dad were together. It was a painting that I grew up with.”
Mr. Schnabel’s mother, Jacqueline, lives nearby, also in the West Village; his father lives upstairs on the seventh floor with Rula Jebreal, the 37-year old Palestinian author of Miral, which Mr. Schnabel recently turned into a film. Asked bluntly whether he likes Ms. Jebreal, the young Mr. Schnabel straightened his posture in the chair. “Yes, I do. What kind of question is that? Terrible question. Next.”
He later returned to the subject unsolicited: “Yes, I do like Rula very much.”
Growing up, Mr. Schnabel attended Saint Ann’s, the famous bastion of creativity, though he insisted he never had any inclination toward becoming an artist. He curated his first exhibition (filling a 20,000-square-foot space) as a junior in high school, featuring works by artists he grew up around (including Vahakn Arslanian, Luigi Ontani and Herbie Fletcher) as well as pieces by his sister, Lola.
“There are a lot of different dimensions to it, whether it’s being around all this different art, or all these younger artists who wanted to have shows, or being at home always surrounded by art unfortunately, no, not unfortunately, but just …” he trailed off.
“I didn’t know what he was going to do,” the elder Mr. Schnabel told The Observer over the phone from St. Moritz on Monday afternoon. “I thought he hated art because it was something that took me away from him.”
After Saint Ann’s, Vito attended the New School, but dropped out. “I went for a full year,” he sighed. “I always wanted to be out there [working] from a young age. And it was something that was going to happen so …” His voice trailed off.
Of his career choice he added jokingly, “I wasn’t going to be a professional athlete because I didn’t grow until I was about 20 years old, so it seemed like the next best thing.” (Though Julian Schnabel noted with paternal pride, “It just so happens Vito is an amazing athlete. He plays basketball with Steve Nash. He organized this baseball game, and every time he got up to bat he hit a home run! He didn’t get it from me; I’ve always been a surfer.”)
Vito Schnabel now runs an office of six people on Greenwich Street in north Tribeca. His next project is a March exhibition of works by the poet and artist Rene Ricard, a coup considering the reclusive Chelsea Hotel resident hasn’t shown his work in years. (Mr. Schnabel’s first art purchase was a drawing of a capsized ship by Mr. Ricard, which the nascent dealer bought for $300 at the age of 10.)
Asked if it’s difficult being the boss at 24, Mr. Schnabel replied thoughtfully, “It doesn’t really work like that. There’s a quiet understanding. But I did have more trouble with that before.”
When not working or working the town, Mr. Schnabel likes to watch basketball (he is an ardent Knicks fan) and movies–he recently saw, and loved, the Joaquin Phoenix almost-documentary I’m Still Here. Mr. Schnabel also likes to read; he recently finished Annie Cohen-Solal’s biography of legendary art dealer Leo Castelli, Leo and His Circle: The Life of Leo Castelli. Of the biography, Mr. Schnabel noted, “I thought it was super-interesting how late it all started for him.”