Robert Longo’s artworks represent diverse fragments, contained within as well as sprung from a restlessly circulated and widely shared image-archive; surrogated archetypes of war, revolt, beauty, love, sex, power, religion, politics, culture, transgression, and subjugation.
Two groups of eighty-one studies—The Essentials (2000–08) and The Mysteries (2009–13)—hang on opposing walls of the Leir Atrium. A non-linear, grand narrative that hinges on the confluence of becoming and extinction, the artist refers to The Essentials as his creation myth, complete with a libidinal universe and its Godhead: the galaxy, sleeping children, sharks, roses, waves, bombs, and the interior of Sigmund Freud’s apartment one day before he fled the Nazis. Once this universe was complete, Longo relinquished his control. Icons of politics, pop culture and sports, symbols of Americana, impossible landscapes, tools for aggression, and objects of desire comprise The Mysteries, drawings of a populace left to roam, replicate, and self destruct.
Proceeding upstairs to South Gallery, Capitol (2013), an immense seven-panel drawing of the US Capitol Building, hangs alone on the longest wall, its placement and dimension reminiscent of a cinema screen. The drawing’s compositional perspective and the minimal yet dramatic illumination of the artwork signal a durational effect, suggesting that like the building itself, Capitol is watched as well as seen. A drawing, a screen, a surface, it projects meaning but is also projected upon, a spectacular event preceded by the atomized storyboard of studies.
Juxtaposing the singular Capitol against the multitude of studies speaks to the play of dualities and contradictions pervading Longo’s work; the flow of information between one and many, and the exchange between intensely private and universally relevant experiences. His subjects are forms meaningless in themselves, yet derivative of something powerful and hidden. Capitol, The Essentials, The Mysteries, are all drawn from the infinite database available in the post-digital age, which has, paradoxically, created a deposit of infinitely repetitious data—a shared archive of images that rhythmically gather critical mass and then explode, circulate, and replicate. The Capitol Project proposes that the artworks which comprise the exhibition have always existed. Longo is an observant chooser, who lifts and presents from the collective image-unconscious, exposing the shared desires, fears, hopes, and losses that give shape to the world we live in.
Kelly Taxter, Curator.