“It’s sort of guerilla warfare,” said Vito Schnabel, the curator and art dealer.
He was talking about the methods of the anonymous art collective he collaborates with, the Bruce High Quality Foundation, but he could have been describing his own way of organizing exhibitions. Mr. Schnabel—who also works with the artists Dan Colen and Terence Koh, among others—does not have a permanent gallery space. He prefers a nomadic approach. He met the members of Bruce High Quality when he was 17, about a year after putting together his first show, when he was still a junior in high school. He’s 25 now.
Last week, Mr. Schnabel was at Sotheby’s, standing in the auction house’s new second-floor gallery called S2 and overseeing the installation of a show he had given the title “These Days.” Bruce High Quality is the centerpiece of the show, which also includes works by Mr. Colen, Mr. Koh and David Benjamin Sherry. He spoke softly during his interview with The Observer and would frequently back away from the recorder in favor of pacing in small circles and shifting his weight from leg to leg in front of an artwork. We stood in front of The Gate by Bruce High Quality, a silkscreened image of a photograph that appeared on the front page of The New York Times. It was taken in fall 2005, when a public art group had created a floating island on a barge based on sketches made in 1970 by the artist Robert Smithson. They were pulling it around Manhattan with a tugboat. Bruce High Quality replicated one of the artist Christo’s famous orange gates, which had made up a massive installation in Central Park earlier that year, and installed it on a motorboat and attempted to mount it to the floating island. The image shows the smaller boat as it races to catch up with the island.
Asked if he considers himself the Bruce collective’s dealer despite his lack of a gallery, Mr. Schnabel responded quickly: “Yeah, I do.” He waited a beat before adding, “And friend.”
“They wanted their work to be seen,” Mr. Schnabel continued, “but they weren’t really sure of the gallery system, or what their system was. How they were working was outside of anything that had really been done before.”
Mr. Schnabel has appeared in the press quite a lot in the past few years—in Page Six with his arm around Elle Macpherson or Liv Tyler; in The New York Times for his parties, like the one he threw at Art Basel Miami in 2009 that was attended by Naomi Campbell, Stephen Dorff and Peter Brant (one of Mr. Schnabel’s collectors). The first thing journalists like to mention when writing about Vito is that he is the son of Julian Schnabel, the high-profile painter and filmmaker who built his own ivory—well, pink—tower in the West Village, the Palazzo Chupi, where Vito currently resides.
He may live under his father’s nose, but he has stepped out of his shadow, which is evident from looking at the show at Sotheby’s. Not only has he brought a group of young artists whom one wouldn’t expect to find on display at the auction house, but he has helped to cultivate their careers as well. His work with Mr. Koh helped lead to the artist’s first solo exhibition at Mary Boone gallery, a performance piece that garnered him comparisons to Chris Burden and Maurizio Cattelan. Bruce High Quality’s rats exhibit at Venice last summer—10 inflatable rats of the kind you see in front of picket lines in New York (like the one at Sotheby’s right now) reciting love letters to one another—stood guard near the Biennale’s entrance; the same rats recently made an appearance at Dasha Zhukova’s new art space in St. Petersburg, Russia. Outside the glare of the media spotlight, Mr. Schnabel has transformed himself from an ambitious young kid with a lot of promise into a smart curator with a keen eye.
“I met him when he was just the son of Julian Schnabel,” said Aby Rosen, the collector and real estate mogul who has let Mr. Schnabel have his way with some of the buildings he owns (like the W Hotel in Miami Beach). Mr. Rosen has bought works by Mr. Koh, Mr. Colen and Bruce High Quality from Mr. Schnabel. “He started to become himself.”