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Vito on Top of the World

Vito Schnabel Gallery in St. Moritz
Photo: Romano Salis, Courtesy of Vito Schnabel Gallery

Vito Schnabel, son of artist and filmmaker Julian Schnabel and designer Jacqueline Beaurang, is an art dealer, an independent curator at heart and a New Yorker by birth and by choice. 2015 saw the opening of his first gallery space located “On Top of the World” where “Life is Beautiful” – St. Moritz, Switzerland.

The inaugural exhibition at Vito Schnabel Gallery (VSG) by Swiss artist Urs Fischer was titled Bruno & Yoyo. The exhibition paid homage to Bruno Bischofberger, whose gallery occupied the space since 2009 and with whom Vito Schnabel co-presented three exhibitions in the past.

Alongside the gallery exhibition VSG presented a public art installation by Sterling Ruby, entitled STOVES. The installation reflected the gallery’s ongoing intention to curate public spaces throughout St. Moritz year-round as an extension of its programming.

Vito Schnabel is part of the traditional art scene as well as the young and less conventional one – blurring lines between them, connecting and cross-fertilizing where and whenever possible. Every exhibition reflects Schnabel’s broad yet always personal approach to furthering and presenting both new talent as well as established artists in extraordinary environments and combinations – an approach he has stayed true to ever since and has become famous for.

Gallery Bruno Bischofberger in Zürich, Acquavella Galleries in New York, Sotheby’s Galleries in New York and London as well as off spaces such as photographer Richard Avedon’s former studio, a warehouse on Hudson Street in Manhattan, the historic Germania Bank Building on the Bowery – to name just a few – have all been temporary homes to his unique form of creating visual and emotional experiences in form of art exhibitions.

Throughout the years Vito Schnabel has cultivated and promoted the careers and/or works of many artists. Among them Terence Koh, Ron Gorchov, The Bruce High Foundation (and with it subsequently 600 female artists), Joe Bradley, Dan Colen, Jeff Elrod, Mark Grotjahn, Harmony Korine, Laurie Anderson, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Urs Fischer, Rene Ricard, Sterling Ruby, Julian Schnabel and Andy Warhol.

In Conversation

How does a man so successful in his independent ways decide to take that one step further and open a traditional gallery space? And why out of all the places in the world, with all the experience at hand and all the connections at arm’s length, in the mountains of Switzerland? Vito Schnabel takes time out and provides us with answers:

After so many years successfully working as an independent curator, why open a traditional gallery space?
Bruno Bischofberger offered to let me take over his gallery space in St. Moritz in 2015. It was an incredible opportunity and I was very excited to be able to continue the legacy of his space. The gallery has allowed me to maintain a more consistent exhibition program and is a platform to exhibit art in Europe. I continue to present projects in New York and all over the world, in addition to the permanent space in St. Moritz.

Your family has a love affair with the Engadin Valley – what was the ultimate reason for you to open your first space there?
When the opportunity arose for me to take over Bruno’s space, it seemed like the perfect place to open my first gallery. I have been spending time in St. Moritz since I was a child. One of my earlier memories here is seeing a show of my father’s large bronze sculptures installed on a snowy mountain. It was something unlike anything I had seen before. I also remember seeing many important shows of works by Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol that Bruno had put together. It’s a very special place.

Does the presence of your gallery affect others around you in the area?
I was happy to be able to bring a program that doesn’t cross over with but rather compliment the other galleries in St. Moritz and the area.

How does the galleries programming reflect its surroundings and in that, what do you hope to bring to the area?
Last year we presented an installation of Sterling Ruby’s STOVES outside at the Kulm Hotel, across from the gallery. It was amazing to see these large-scale works in the Engadin landscape. It was also a great pleasure to show the Swiss artist Urs Fischer’s work, who hadn’t had a show in his native country since 2008. It’s been great working with him in Switzerland.

Looking back now, was the decision to open a gallery in St.Moritz the right one for you and the artists you represent?
It has been great so far. Every artist whom I have brought to St. Moritz has loved it and has been very excited to both create and exhibit their work here. It’s an area that has long inspired artists—from Alberto Giacometti to Jean-Michel Basquiat to Andy Warhol.

What catches your eye in an artwork and how does an artist awaken your interest?
I am always looking for new artists. What excites me is when I see something I haven’t seen before.

Is the Turkish art market of interest to you? And if so, why?
I’m very interested in the art world in Turkey—I have recently seen some incredible artists coming from Istanbul. I’m also looking forward to visiting the new Koc Contemporary Art Museum when it opens next year.

Would you consider mounting an exhibition in Turkey in the future?
Absolutely. For me, the specific location is very important—usually once I see a space, I am able to think about what work I would like to present there.


On the 29th of December 2016, VSG presents Figment, a solo exhibition by American abstract painter Jeff Elrod. The show is on view until the 22nd of January 2017.