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ROBERT LONGOAmerican b. 1953

ROBERT LONGOAmerican b. 1953

Born in Brooklyn, New York, and raised in Long Island, Robert Longo studied sculpture under Leonda Finke, who encouraged him 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 as an art student at the State University College in Buffalo, graduating in 1975. It was at this time that his life-long friendship with Cindy Sherman, who was also studying at Buffalo college, began; Longo moved to New York with Sherman in 1977 and started to work as a studio assistant to Vito Acconci and Dennis Oppenheim. That year he also participated in a five-person show entitled Pictures—curated by Douglas Crimp at Artist’s Space in New York— that was the first exhibition to contextualize a young group of artists who were turning away from Minimalism and Conceptualism and towards image-making; over the next decade Longo would become known as a leading protagonist of the “Pictures Generation”.

Longo has said that “…art is an attempt to try and understand our own contemporary situation through making images that are completely personal, while also addressing our social context.” Indeed, the artist’s current website gives a biography detailing Longo’s life and work in relation to world events such as the Kent State University shootings in Ohio, the Gulf War, 9/11 and the rise of ISIS. In this he might be understood as a Pop artist: his work articulating fundamental critiques of the anaesthetizing effects of capitalism, mediatized wars, and the cult of history in the US. Nevertheless, Longo’s long-standing fascination with the medium of charcoal – in which he has worked almost exclusively since the millennium – differentiates him from the Pop artists for whom process, by which we can understand artistic labour, is less important.

Longo’s work responds not only with contemporary events but further engages directly with art history, as in the Hungry Ghosts series (2015-17). This recent series of charcoals, based on transparencies from restoration departments of major museums such as the Louvre, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Courtauld Institute of Art, demonstrates the artist’s technical mastery over styles as diverse as those of Rembrandt and Van Gogh. Due to the artist’s training in sculpture, it is possible to recognise the influence of this practice in the three-dimensionality of Longo’s photorealist charcoals. In Study for Marilyn, the fall of light across the surface planes of the woman’s chest is particularly striking and adept. Longo’s ability to reflect the particularities of the source imagery, from articulating the pixilation of degraded video, to the shattered glass of a bullet hole, to the curves of a woman’s form, provide a visual feast for the viewer. As such, visual hedonism and political disillusionment remain in constant tension in his work.

Longo has shown work at the 1983 and 2004 Whitney Biennial in New York and the 47th Venice Biennale. The artist’s works are held in the collections of the Albertina in Vienna, the Art Institute of Chicago, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate Gallery in London, and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, among others. Longo currently lives and works in New York.