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Robert Longo

Robert Longo Biography

born Brooklyn, NY (USA) 1953

Robert Longo was born in 1953 in Brooklyn, New York. He was raised on suburban Long Island where as a youth he participated in various arts activities from a very young age. Longo developed an early fascination with all forms of mass media, especially movies, television, magazines, and comic books. These hallmark influences are still incorporated into the art work that he is producing today.

Robert Longo's works are filled with deep emotions that are both primitive and at the same time self-conscious. One of the quintessential artists of the 1980s, Longo's "Men in the Cities" series portrays a group of sharply dressed businessmen writhing in contorted agony.

Robert Longo's art training and background are very diverse. His higher education began at the University of North Texas, in the rural town of Denton. Like so many other creative and ingenious people, Longo excelled in several different art forms. After a break from university life, Longo began studying sculpture under the guidance of Leonda Finke, who encouraged the young artist to pursue a career in the visual arts. In 1972, Longo received a grant to study at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence, Italy. Upon his return to New York, Longo enrolled at the State University College in Buffalo where he received a BFA in 1975. In college, Longo and a group of his friends established an avant-garde art gallery in their co-op building, which was originally a converted ice factory. Through his gallery efforts, Longo was introduced to many local and New York City artists. Eventually he moved to New York City and immersed himself in the underground art scene of the seventies.

Although he studied sculpture, drawing remained Longo's favorite form of self- expression. However, the sculptural influence pervades his drawing technique, as Longo's "portraits" have a distinctive chiseled line that seems to give the drawings a three dimensional quality, Longo uses graphite like clay. He molds it to create images like the writhing, dancing figures in his seminal "Men in the Cities" series.

The artist has been the subject of major retrospective exhibitions at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1989 and at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago in 1990. Well into the next century, Longo will continue to be one of the most highly regarded living contemporary artists and print makers working in the international art market.

In order to create works such as Barbara and Ralph, Longo first projects photographs of his subjects onto paper and traces the figures in graphite, stripping away all details of the background. After he records the basic contours, his assistant, Diane Shea, continues work on the figure for about a week, filling in the details. Next, Longo goes back into the drawing, using a combination of graphite and charcoal, to provide as he says, "all the cosmetic work." At this point, he makes a number of changes in the figure. Some are subtle: just a little more definition to a shoulder, perhaps, or a darker cast to the shoes. Others are radical: a subject, who in the original photo was wearing jeans, may finally sport a pair of formal black trousers in the drawing. Longo continues to work on the drawing making numerous adjustments until, about a week later, it is completed.

The process of making a lithograph is equally involved. Studio assistants do much of the basic work. Though his use of assistants has on occasion been controversial, the practice has several precedents, from the old masters with their workshop minions to the minimalists whose creations involve the talents of industrial fabricators.

Few artists have enjoyed the international visibility of Robert Longo and fewer still have generated as much thought -provoking commentary about their own art and about the state of contemporary culture at large. His original art is immediately recognizable by many who have seen only few examples of it.

Select Timeline

Select Exhibitions

  • 1991 - Power, Indianapolis Museum of Art Indianapolis
  • 1991 - Linda Cathcart Gallery Los Angeles, USA
  • 1992 - When Heaven and Hell Change Places, Galerie Hans Mayer Dusseldorf
  • 1992 - Allegories of Modernism: Contemporary Drawing, The Museum of Modern Art New York, NY
  • 1993 - Lucio Silla Group Exhibit, Kleines Festspielhaus Salzburg, Austria
  • 1993 - Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac Salzburg
  • 1994 - New York on Paper, Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac Paris, France
  • 1994 - Generev Grunwald Gallery Toronto, Canada
  • 1995 - Passion Privees, Musees d'art Moderne de la ville de Paris, Paris, France
  • 1995 - Robert Longo: A Retrospective, The Isetan Mseum of Art, Tokyo
  • 1995 - Ashikaga City Museum, Kirin Plaza Art Space, Osaka
  • 1995 - Essence and Persuasion: The Power of Black and White, Anderson Gallery Buffalo, NY
  • 1995 - Johnny Paintings, Galerie Gana-Beaubourg Paris, France
  • 1996 - Bang! The Gun as Image, Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts, Tallahassee, FL
  • 1996 - Metro Pictures, New York, New York "Unplugged", Gallery Cotthem, Knokke-Zoute, Belgium
  • 1996 - Robert Longo: Kreuze, Museum Fridericianum, Kassel, Germany
  • 1997 - Kunsthal Rotterdam, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
  • 1997 - Kunsthalle Bielefeld, Bielefeld, Germany
  • 1997 - Metro Pictures, NY, USA
  • 1997 - La Biennale di Venezia: XLVII Espozioione Internationale d'Arte, Venice, Italy
  • 1997 - Landscape: The Pastoral to the Urban, Center for Curatorial Studies: Bard College
  • 1997 - Views From Abroad: European Perspectives on American Art 3, Whitney Museum of American Art New York, NY
  • 1997 - Das Magellan Projekt, Kunsthalle Tubingen, Tubingen, Germany
  • 1997 - Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy
  • 1998 - Superheroes, Cotthem Gallery, Knokke-Zoute, Belgium
  • 1999 - The Kiasma Collection, Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinski
  • 1999 - The Virginia & Bagley Wrught Collection, Seattle Art Museum
  • 2000 - Robert Longo - Superheroes, Lipanje Puntin Artecontemporanea, Trieste
  • 2000 - Supermodel - Identity and Transformation, Lipanje Puntin
  • 2000 - Artecontemporanea, Trieste
  • 2001 - Pop Art & Co - Uniques, Graphics and Multiples, Galerie Burkhard Eikelmann, Essen
  • 2002 - Trance und Traum, Galerie Six Friedrich Lisa Ungar, Munich
  • 2002 - Robert Longo : Sigmund Freud, Jundisches Museum Berlin, Galerie Steinek, Vienna
  • 2002 - Monster Waves, Galerie Steinek, Vienna
  • 2002 - 20 years Galerie Steinek, Vienna
  • 2003 - The Eighties - Part II : USA, Galerie Bernd Kluser, Munich
  • 2003 - Andy Warhol / Robert Longo - Cars, Daimler Chrysler Contemporary, Berlin
  • 2003 - Robert Longo - Lust of Eye, galleria Soledad Lorenzo, Madrid
  • 2003 - Aufgeschraubt und Abgestaubt - Die Sammlung im Prozess der Neuprasentation, Ludwig Forum fur Internationale Kunst, Aachen
  • 2003 - M_ARS - Art and War, Neue Galerie Graz am Landesmuseum Joanneum, Graz
  • 2004 - by Amerika, Galerie Steinek, Vienna
  • 2004 - Laocoonte devoarto. Arte y violencia politica, Artium Centro-Museo Vasco de Arte Comtemporaneo, Vitoria-Gasteiz
  • 2004 - Our sickness of reason created monsters - The Colossus , Galerie Piece Unique, Paris
  • 2004 - Whitney Biennial Exhibition, Whitney Museum of American, New York, NY

Select Artwork

  • Study for Lulu, 2007
  • Study for Constanza, 2006
  • Joseph, 2002
  • Wave, 2003
  • Study for Friends (detail), 1984
  • Cindy, 2002
  • Max, 2002
  • Black Flag, 1999.
  • Tillman, 2000
  • Study for Stretched Ghost Dog, 2005
  • Study for Sun (#1), 2005
  • Study for Ophelia #6, 2004

Quotes

  • "A lot of us grew up in public. That often means that you have to fail in public too."
  • "The artist has to be a guardian of the culture."
  • "You think some of it is really horrible... then you think, I'm never going to make anything this good again."
  • "There are no guidelines for what happens when you get successful as an artist. My heroes were artists like Acconci, and he didn't make any money. That's what I thought success was."

Publications

  • Robert Longo: The Freud Drawings - by Robert Longo (Author), Rainer Metzger (Author), Werner Spies, Kerber Verlag; Bilingual edition (August 2003)

Quick Facts

  • Although he studied sculpture, drawing remained Longo's favorite form of self-expression.
  • Working on themes of power and authority, Longo produced a series of blackened American flags ("Black Flags" 1989-91).
  • To create works such as Barbara and Ralph, Longo projects photographs of his subjects onto paper and traces the figures in graphite, removing all details of the background. After he records the basic contours, his assistant, Diane Shea, works on the figure for about a week, filling in the details. Next, Longo goes back into the drawing, using graphite and charcoal to provide "all the cosmetic work." Longo continues to work on the drawing, making numerous adjustments until, about a week later, it is completed.
  • During the 1980s, Longo had a brief stint as a music video director. He was responsible for the very prominent videos for "Bizarre Love Triangle" by New Order and "The One I Love" by R.E.M.
  • He also directed the cyberpunk movie, Johnny Mnemonic, starring Keanu Reeves, and a short film named Arena Brains.

Keywords

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