Friday, December 12, 2008

Holy crap -- THIS is the show that made me want to be an artist.

Was hanging out in SL, chatting with various people, and the topic of art came up, and I mentioned Robert Longo (my favorite artist & one of my biggest influences), and I decided to Google something about him, and I came across this article -- written about the VERY exhibition that lead to one of the biggest turning points in my life -- the one that made me want to be an artist -- I call it my "artistic epiphany" -- HAHA! This is the show that I am always telling people about when they ask me how I discovered that art was (is) my calling -- holy shit!!

Okay -- so. A little background info regarding:

When I was 14, in the summer between my freshman and sophomore year, I took a college-level summer art program for high-school kids at the University of Hartford. It was a 3-week class, Monday through Friday, 7 hours a day. Sculpture class in the morning; an hour for lunch; then drawing in the afternoon. At the end of the course, our class took a field trip to the Wadsworth Atheneum, which just happened to have a Robert Longo exhibition going on at the time.

That field trip changed me profoundly -- and changed my idea of what an artist could do, and what art can BE. It made me realize exactly what I wanted to fucking do with my life.

So anyway, the article:

ART; Secondhand Emotions in Varied Media
Published: August 5, 1990

LEAD: THE main event now at Wadsworth Atheneum is ''Robert Longo.'' But first, the superlatives and demi-superlatives: the 12-year retrospective is billed as ''the primary contemporary art exhibition in New England this summer'' and as the vehicle for ''some of the largest works ever mounted'' at the Hartford museum.

Mr. Longo himself is advertised as ''one of the most significant figures of the generation that came to prominence during the 1980's'' and as ''one of the world's most heralded young artists'' (a title for which the competition is fierce). He is also called ''poet of urban life,'' a title that has a familiar ring.

As for the exhibition, it originated in slightly larger form at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where it was organized by the curator of contemporary art, Howard Fox, and A.T.&T. is its angel. Accompanying the event is a catalogue containing essays by Mr. Fox and other authorities, with lots of photographs in black and white and color.

The tale of the artist's life makes chaotic reading. Having been graduated from Plainview High School, on Long Island, he spent about a year at North Texas State University, in Denton, then took to the road in a Volkswagen. Upon arriving in New York City, he worked in survival jobs and studied briefly with the sculptor Leonda Finke. Receiving a grant in 1972, Mr. Longo, then in his 19th year, proceeded to Italy, where he applied himself to learning art history and painting restoration. After that, more traveling, but a visit to the Rodin Museum, in Paris, clinched the idea of becoming an artist, and by the end of 1973, he was in Buffalo, at the State University College's art school.

In Buffalo, Mr. Longo began making the contacts that have been so crucial to his career - with the film makers Hollis Frampton and Paul Sharits, the photographer Cindy Sherman and a host of other talents, emerging and emerged. In company with some of these new friends, Mr. Longo set up the alternative space, Hallwalls, inviting the attention of Vito Acconci, Sol Lewitt, Lucy Lippard, Richard Serra and other notables, including the new curator of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Linda Cathcart.

So far, the artist's own work had been largely experimental, but in 1976, he staged his first performance, ''Artful Dodger.'' This caught the eye of Helene Winer, who invited him to Artists Space, her own territory in Manhattan, where he did another performance, this time with the help of several Buffalo friends. There followed an encounter with Jonathan Borofsky and, as a result, Mr. Longo's first reliefs in clay. Cast in aluminum and painted, the one called ''Seven Seals for Missouri Breaks'' made it into a group show at the Albright-Knox, and it is the earliest piece in the present display.

By 1977, the artist was very much in the Manhattan swim, sharing quarters with Ms. Sherman, working as Mr. Acconci's assistant, going to avant-garde movies, hanging out at the Mudd Club and other nightspots, organizing and participating in exhibitions. Of course, there were hard times, including a stint as a cabdriver. But Mr. Longo's star was rising, and in 1981, he made his first solo appearance in a commercial gallery, the aptly-named Metro Pictures. He had already acquired his collaborator, Diane Shea, a professional illustrator who ''improves'' his drawings.

Thanks to the ground broken by Pop, art had completed its metamorphosis from a solitary, sometimes dowdy occupation enlivened by the occasional eccentric to a highly charged collective activity that depends as much on the media as on its own media for success. Not that there is anything inherently wrong about that. Still, it goes a long way toward explaining Mr. Longo's way of alternating between naivete and slickness, solemnity and emptiness. There is angst in this art, but it is a secondhand version, an offset reproduction of the emotion.

The first piece to greet the visitor is a bank of four steel cylindars covered with gold leaf. It looks like a giant gold mangle hanging on the wall, and, every so often, the rollers rotate at high speed, making the gallery resonate like a Laundromat. Dated 1988 and titled ''Dumb Running: The Theory of the Brake,'' it could be the last object touched by Midas. To Mr. Fox, it suggests ''an absolute power that exists to serve itself and operates on all things external with equal indifference.''

Indifference, absence, alienation, indolence - these are Mr. Longo's themes, and he expresses them in many different forms. One is the large figure that is half-Samurai, half comic-book robot but all scales, chains, machine parts, bandoliers and guns cast into bronze. A creature with, among other things, two densely fanged mouths and a single female breast, it stands against a painted backdrop of opera boxes, holding a flagpole in one hand, a broken guitar in the other and emitting from its naked rump a bunch of thunderbolts. The figure symbolizes a fallen angel, possibly Beelzebub himself, and the title, ''All You Zombies: Truth Before God,'' has a moralizing tone. Nevertheless, the awe it inspires is strictly ''special effects.''

Though much concerned with the evils of the world, Mr. Longo is less than sophisticated when making his big points. ''Pressure,'' for example, is a painting of a young man in clown makeup who, literally, is under pressure from the relief above of office buildings painted pale gray. Yet this kind of thing is catnip to the literal minded. Mr. Fox likens the piece to Rodin's carving of Pallas Athena crowned with a diminutive Parthenon, and who but an esthete can gainsay him?

There are images that are heavy with meaning but work well as abstractions, like ''Joker: Force of Choice,'' an upended cross that is the sum of four right-angled chevrons of Corten steel. But the strongest punch comes from the black-and-white drawings of life-size figures in arrested motion, the men wearing business suits, the women dresses. Well-dressed nonentities with neither a past nor a future, they inhabit a perpetual freeze frame. The reviewer never sees them without thinking of the people who dance alone at discos, perhaps hoping to be caught as Mr. Longo catches them but in gorgeous grainy photographs.

As mediocre drawings these images are more memorable than they ought to be. The same can be said for ''Corporate Wars: Walls of Influence,'' an aluminum relief of office workers kicking, shoving and wrestling each other, which is flanked by two black shapes symbolizing corporate architecture.

Then again, the secret of Mr. Longo's success may be his very ingenuousness. Bizarre as it may seem, most of his work is as easy to ''read'' as Norman Rockwell's vision of Thanksgiving dinner.

The Robert Longo retrospective, which also includes videotapes, will remain at the Wadsworth Atheneum, 600 Main Street, Hartford, through Sept. 1.

[ Source: ]

I used to have the book from this show, but currently I have no idea where it is -- I may have lost it when I moved into my current home.

(I have some old photos from that art class floating around somewhere; when I find them, I will post them.)


Beth said...

So what was it about Longo's work that spoke to you? Would love to know more...

Nebulosus Severine / CM Pauluh said...

Part of it was that it was the first time I saw art presented in a completely different way than I had ever experienced -- installation, kinetic art, pieces that incorporated several different media/materials...

Before that, my impression of art galleries was basically framed paintings hung on walls, sculptures on pedestals.

Longo's work was probably the first I had seen that was so dynamic and exciting, and HUGE! And it dealt with contemporary topics, ones that I could relate to. He used raw, blunt, and sometimes violent imagery, which I loved (still do). He has also directed a few music videos -- part of the exhibition was a room that showed the videos and short films he directed -- so that aspect appealed to me as well, I thought he was cool! Haha.

Some of the most well known videos he directed are 'Bizarre Love Triangle' by New Order, 'Peace Sells, But Who's Buying?' by Megadeth, and 'The One I Love' by REM. They were all songs I really loved at the time, still do!