In the lobby of the poppy red Palazzo Chupi, the art dealer Vito Schnabel, who was just arriving home, greeted his father, the artist Julian Schnabel, who was just leaving.
“Where are you going?” the son asked.
Wind rushed inside as the large wooden doors swung shut behind the younger Mr. Schnabel.
“To the boys’ game. I’m going to try to watch a bit of it.”
Next to his father’s bearish being, the 24-year-old shrunk into the Carvaggio-like shadows of the dimly lit space. Both father and son wore black overcoats that hit above their knees.
“If you can, you should try to stay for the whole thing, you’ll have fun,” Vito advised his father of his twin brothers’ high-school athletic event.
“Will you be here when I get back? Do you have plans this evening?” the elder Mr. Schnabel asked. He wore a bright yellow scarf and observed his son through egg-yolk-yellow tinted glasses.
“No, no plans,” Vito replied. “I’ll see you when you get back.”
Such is the convenience of keeping family under one roof; Vito and his father occupy two of the 12-story palazzo’s five residences.
The Palazzo Chupi, looming over West 11th Street, is Julian Schnabel’s largest standing work of art. Built atop an early-20th-century factory building, it was a sore-thumb example of the real estate bubble bursting when one duplex unit was bought and sold by Richard Gere for a million-dollar loss, and prices for the penthouse triplex plummeted in 2009, from $32 million to $10.5 million.
“Basically, I made a deal with my dad so I could take this over and lease it from him for some years,” Mr. Schnabel said of his duplex apartment while unpeeling his coat and then the oatmeal-colored Hermes scarf looped around his neck. Mr. Schnabel’s residence occupies one-half of the third-floor duplex, with his father’s studio next door occupying the rest of the floor.
“This was supposed to be two floors,” he went on, as he strode from the low-ceilinged kitchen and dining area of his apartment into the double-height living room. “And we took the ceiling out of it and doubled the height so I have this little salon.”
Mr. Schnabel is, officially, an art dealer. But he is also a curator, a gallerist, an exhibition instigator and, these days, the Jay Gatsby of the young art-world set, having hosted the most-sought-after party at this year’s Art Basel Miami and appearing around town at the chicest gatherings. (He most recently caused a stir when he arrived at the nightclub Avenue with actress Liv Tyler.)
Not that he’s new to causing a stir: At 21, he was rumored to be dating the then 44-year-old Elle MacPherson. Asked about his son’s relationship with the Australian supermodel, known as “the body,” the elder Mr. Schnabel nonchalantly told a reporter, “They’re hanging out. It’s not like he’s smuggling heroin across the border!”
The walls of the lofty living room are covered in wood-siding–”salvaged from Brooklyn,” Mr. Schnabel pointed out. Weathered tiles in a dim cobalt and black cover the floor, and an L-shaped sectional centers the room, framing a coffee table covered in figurines of various shapes and sizes.
“Oh, those are Bruce High Quality figurines,” said Mr. Schnabel. “They painted the Bruce face on them for a show that we did for Basel last year.”
The young art dealer paced between two Prussian Blue velvet Louis XV wingback chairs. “I took all the paintings down in my hotel [in Miami] and put up Terence’s work and Dan’s and the Bruces’.”
Mr. Schnabel, who is not tall and has the ruddy complexion of a child who has spent too much of the summer playing outdoors, was referring to works by his friends and clients, Terence Koh, Dan Colen and the members of the Bruce High Quality Foundation.
He was dressed in dark-washed jeans and a white button-down shirt with mint-green stripes, a small navy monogram discreetly tucked above his spleen. His wavy hair, a dark gold color, was raked straight back in the style of an idle European.
“Naturally, from putting together shows, you end up working with artists, and a lot of the artists I work with I’ve become very close friends with.”
His gaze settled on the divan of the sectional sofa, which was draped in magenta linen and decorated with a cream and lime crewel work throw pillow. “It’s all sort of grown, or happened, very organically,” he said.
The Bruce High Quality Foundation, whom Vito has known since a chance run in at J.F.K. airport in 2003 (Vito asked the group to buy a bottle of Champagne for him, as he was under 21 at the time), noted via a group email (the only way they conduct interviews), “Vito is really a friend first and a dealer second, which means that we have real conversations about what it means to work in the art world today.”
This year, Mr. Schnabel organized the foundation’s three-year-old Brucennial, the salon des refusés that featured more than 300 artists and drew 30,000 visitors to a Soho space borrowed from Mr. Schnabel’s friend, Aby Rosen. “This time around, he could buy the Champagne,” said the foundation.
Mounted on a wall, high and centered like a religious icon, was a thin white light strip coiled into the shape of a rooster. “Oh and that’s Terence’s Big White Cock. It lights up, but it isn’t lit right now. I can light it for you if you want.”
Mr. Schnabel and artist Terence Koh, who are best friends, have known each other for almost half a decade. Their first collaboration was a show of Mr. Koh’s white paintings at Richard Avedon’s former studio in 2008; their most recent collaboration was a sculpture garden of sorts installed this past summer in the middle of a cornfield in Bridgehampton, N.Y.
“I was supposed to do it on a friend of mine’s land, but that fell through because instead of planting corn, they were planting cauliflower and eggplant.” Mr. Schnabel settled into one of the velvet wingback chairs, his arm draped over the gilded arm.
“I went to those farmers and said, ‘Listen, there’s a big problem here, I don’t want to ruin your crops but I need to have this exhibition for an artist I work with and I need some corn.’” He laughed shortly when recounting the interaction. (His diplomacy paid off, staging the 20-acre exhibition in a neighboring cornfield.)
In his recent exhibition at the W Hotel in Miami, during Art Basel, he reinstalled Mr. Koh’s Bridgehampton cornfield sculptures on the Florida beach. However, it was the party he hosted at the hotel’s The Wall lounge that received the most attention, with guests including Susan Sarandon, Alber Elbaz, Sean Penn and Naomi Campbell as well as the art world’s entire royal court.
“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.”