In his exhibition The Destroyer Cycle at Metro Pictures, Robert Longo considers world events through the lens of American media with twelve new, large-scale charcoal drawings. The painstakingly rendered works are visualizations of power, protest, desperation, futility, and aggression that together create a searing portrait of our time.
The Destroyer Cycle continues Longo’s ardent examination of how to re-engage pictures through drawing. For each exhibited work, Longo has developed a technique that reflects the medium of the drawing’s source image. Untitled (Prisoners, Kandahar Airport) captures the graininess of the original infrared telephoto image of prisoners being transported to a CIA black site, as well as the dot pattern of the photograph’s reproduction in a newspaper. Similarly menacing, but using very different subject matter, Untitled (Teletubbies) is based on a still from the surreal children’s TV series that first aired in the UK in 1997. Reflecting already outdated video technology, Longo meticulously rendered the pixilation of the low-quality video still, scrambling the baffling resonance of these alien, cult figures.
Other works are a reminder that political acts are not always visible. Untitled (X-Ray of Venus with a Mirror, 1555, After Titian) portrays an x-ray image of the titular painting that Longo accessed at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. The x-ray reveals that the original composition of the painting—a male and female figure, clothed, in embrace—has been altered to focus on a single naked goddess and her reflection. Part of a series of art historical x-ray drawings, these works manifest another, often hidden kind of truth for Longo, while also offering a metaphor for the status and meaning of images in an age of “alternative facts.”
Intended as the close of the exhibition and sprawling across three panels is Untitled (Raft at Sea). A composite image partially sourced from the cover of a Doctors Without Borders publication, the drawing depicts refugees on a raft amidst the vast, turbulent Mediterranean Sea. Its striking perspective positions the viewer as if looking up at the boat from the water.
A new book focused on Longo’s 2014 Metro Pictures exhibition of drawings based on iconic Abstract Expressionist paintings will be released during the run of the exhibition. Published by Hatje Cantz, Gang of Cosmos: The Abstract Expressionist Drawings includes an essay by Andrew Durbin.
Last year the Garage Museum in Moscow presented a major exhibition of Longo’s works alongside etchings by Francisco Goya and sketches and films by Sergei Eisenstein. An iteration of the exhibition, titled Proof, will open at the Brooklyn Museum on September 8. Later that month Longo also opens an exhibition at the Sara Hildén Art Museum in Finland.
Longo has had one-person exhibitions at the Musée d‘art moderne et d‘art contemporain, Nice; Kunstmuseen Krefeld, Germany; Albertina, Vienna; Isetan Museum of Art, Tokyo; Deichtorhallen, Hamburg; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; and the Menil Collection, Houston. He has been included in Documenta 7 and 8, the 1983 and 2004 Whitney Biennials, and the 47th Venice Biennale.
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