Julian Schnabel the artist has learned a lot from Julian Schnabel the filmmaker. With regard to this latest series of paintings — actually, ink on polyester photo-transfers — what got learnt was that gesture should serve rather than supplant image. Schnabel’s legendary ego retains its stentorian voice in the size of the works, but these aren’t virtuosic crockery cascades or show-off splatters; they’re grainy X-rays of unknown French people taken a century ago. Besides faint showers of pigment and a stenciled letter floating here and there — crucial but subtle modifications — Schnabel has not intervened in the X-rays themselves, only magnified their pathos by expanding them to mural size. Schnabel comprehends these figures as tragic in their mortality but heartening in their inferred durability. He is no longer a neo-expressionist, but a neo-existentialist. Gagosian Gallery, 456 N. Camden Dr., Beverly Hills; Tues.-Sat., 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; thru March 22. (310) 271-9400.
Adam Janes’ installation-sculptures and drawings display a comparable level of ambition — not career ambition, but intellectual ambition. Furthermore, Janes seems to take great pains to avoid technical or formal shortcuts, the kind that undercut Schnabel at the height of his visual-art career. The show is titled “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff at 50%,” but Janes has sweated all the stuff, large and small, filling the work with maelstroms of detail. What Janes doesn’t sweat is obvious meaning; his theater-set-like objects propose conditions that are as ominous as they are absurd without offering a narrative, while the paperworks — full of cartoony incident but delicately wrought as an 18th-century sketch — claim an oblique coherency. Janes is working several currently hip idioms, and doing so much better than almost anyone else around. Roberts & Tilton, 6150 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Sat., 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; thru March 22. (323) 549-0223.