Robert Longo was born January 7, 1953, in Brooklyn, New York, and grew up in Long Island. Longo studied sculpting at the University of North Texas and at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence (1972). He graduated from Buffalo State College, New York, in 1975 and, towards the end of the 1970s, started to work as a professional artist, doing drawings.
After these early drawings, Longo’s work included almost every medium, such as multimedia experiments, installations, and performances. He also created bronze figures, three-dimensional Combines made of metal and plastic, photographic works, and videos (for example, »Bizarre Love Triangle,« New Order; »The One I Love,« R.E.M.). In addition, Longo directed films, among them »Arena Brains« (1988), a 35-minute film about the neurotic art scene in Lower Manhattan, and »Johnny Mnemonic« (1995).
In his works, Longo draws on images of the mass media – a source he subjects to critical reflection, recycles, cites, comments, de-contextualizes and confronts with deconstructive counter images. »No other artist deals more intensely and consciously with the bitter-sweet condition of current American life: a life which for his generation is composed of ecstasy and the horror of a postmodern urban landscape, of rock music, the fight for money, insane pleasures, illusions mirrored through the media, and lawlessness« (Ausst.-Kat. Documenta 8, 1987). In the drawings to follow and in his sometimes photorealist paintings and objects, Longo continued his critical negotiation with the popular production of images and their mediating strategies. His series of drawings, Men in Cities (1980 — 1999), shows its links to the world of film and the media not only through reference to the genre of the action film. It also documents these links through its defining direction of characters, showing large-format, isolated female and male figures, cut out of their original spatial context, having lost their grounding. Longo’s later works display anonymity, anxiety, and loneliness more specifically through single sujets: Flags (Black Flags, 1989 — 91), crosses, pistols (Bodyhammers, 1993 — 95), or huge nuclear mushrooms, also above Nagasaki. Next to large-format pictures of ocean waves, Longo captured these sujets in baroque-like formations in his series Monsterscreated between 2002 and 2004 (Whitney Biennale, 2004).
Destruction and emptiness – in terms of space as well as content – also define the cycle The Freud Drawings which Longo started in 2000. The cycle includes more than 30 large-format charcoal drawings, following the Magellan project (1993 — 96) and Longo’s return to drawing. Here Longo referred to old photographs by Edmund Engelman, taken in Freud’s apartment a few days before he emigrated from Vienna. The color black which dominates in Longo’s works puts into perspective only a few details of the abandoned place, covering, as Werner Spies put it: »rooms, furniture, and things like an eclipse of the sun« (Longo, Freud Drawings, 2002). In an uncanny way, Longo stages the absence of people, the empty apartment and office after Freud’s emigration. Later works, such as Untitled (Hot Sun), 2006, or Untitled(Neptune and Triton), 2006, that show celestial bodies from a coolly distanced close as well as removed perspective, again vary one of Longo’s central motifs – infinite abandonment and emptiness. This also goes for Longo’s latest graphic drawings showing isolated, lying heads (for example, Study for Lulu, 2007).
Since 1976, Longo’s works have been shown at international exhibitions in the U.S., in Japan, and in Europe (Documenta, 1982, 1987; Venice Biennale, 1997). First retrospectives of his work took place at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (1989) and at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (1990).
Richard Longo lives and works in New York.
Robert Longo. The Freud drawings: Ausst.-Kat. Haus Lange, Haus Esters, Krefeld; Albertina Wien, hg. v. M. Hentschel u. K.A. Schröder, Krefeld / Wien 2002/3
Robert Longo, Magellan: Ausst.-Kat. Kunsthalle Tübingen, Kunsthal Rotterdam, Köln 1997
Robert Longo: Ausst.-Kat. Hamburger Kunstverein und Deichtorhallen Hamburg, hg. v. T. Kellein, Stuttgart 1991
Ratcliff, C.: Robert Longo, München 1985