The Brooklyn born artist, Robert Longo (b. 1953), a key figure in the Pictures Generation movement in New York in the late seventies and early eighties, is known for the powerful images he produces which are often engaged with political, environmental and social issues. Since the beginning of Longo’s artistic career he has successfully sparked the collective imagination with imagery that speaks to the specific historical moment in which it was created. Although a summary of Robert Longo’s richly complex and expansive body of work that he has created throughout his lifetime goes far beyond five basic facts, here are the key elements of this significantly influential artist’s professional timeline that we hope will shed light on theoretical gears at work in his aesthetic project.
- Robert Longo’s palpable relationship to media images in his work is the result of a powerful reaction to John Filo’s press photograph in 1970, which pictured a young man murdered in the Kent State University Massacre. Coincidentally, the lifeless body that signified the suffering of many of these victims was that of one of Longo’s classmates. The image of this brutal event, which occurred in the same year that the artist had graduated from high school, became a “symbol of the social unrest” of that particular moment and this critical encounter effectively sparked Longo’s lifelong engagement with politics through the production of images that are familiar and beautiful, but force his audience to consider them within a specific social context.
- During Robert Longo’s time as an art student at SUNY Buffalo he co-founded the exhibition space Hallwalls, which continues today to host shows and talks with a diverse range of artists. Through this, Longo was able to establish an impressive network of some of the most influential figures of art history in the late twentieth century, including: Vito Acconci, John Baldessari, Lynda Benglis, Robert Irwin, Joan Jonas, Bruce Nauman, Cindy Sherman and Richard Serra.
- After moving to New York in 1977, Longo became a leading figure in the “Pictures Generation,” of artists who rejected the Minimalism and Conceptualism movements that had been popular in the sixties. In his first solo show in New York at Metro Pictures in 1981, Longo presented his Men in the Cities series, which depicted life-sized renderings of strangely contorted bodies—including that of his friend and fellow artist Cindy Sherman (see the lithograph of the original charcoal drawing: Cindy, 2002).
- The lasting connection between social issues and imagery in Robert Longo’s work was intensified at the turn of the millennium when the 9/11 attack and Iraq War brought the artists mind back to the brutality and anxiety he had experienced during the Vietnam War. The realities of the American condition sparked Longo’s next series, entitled The Essentials, which visually represented his unique interpretation of the creation myth. Beginning with a series of wave drawings—The Monsters, as Longo called them, which includes The Ledge, 2005 —the artist began contrasting these prolific forms with banal scenes of Sigmund Freud’s consultation office in Vienna during the Nazi Occupation. For Longo, the opposing bodies of imagery “provided the counterbalance of human reason to the ocean’s untamable nature.”
- By 2009 Longo’s attention to both formal and conceptual elements within his work had provided him with an expansive visual language, which he used to make sense of and portray our present world. In his series The Mysteries, Longo’s visually seductive yet formidable close-up images of a caged tiger (Untitled—Leo, 2013), whose intense stare both mesmerizes and frightens its viewer, represents the many contradictions of contemporary life.
The captivating work of this greatly instrumental contemporary artist can be viewed at our gallery in Chelsea, please kindly send all inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
All biographical information is attributed to Robert Longo’s official website (robertlongo.com)