Events

ROBERT LONGO A History of the Present

Robert Longo’s exhibition, A History of the Present, is a celebration of and a critical investigation into the span of American history bookended by Abstract Expressionism and the current moment in which we live. In two adjacent galleries Longo juxtaposes America’s past with its present through 17 monumental, highly labor-intensive charcoal drawings that act as mirrors into history.
The exhibition begins with Longo’s Gang of Cosmos series–exquisitely rendered, highly sensitized black and white translations in charcoal–based on prominent paintings from the American Abstract Expressionist movement. Many of the artists who made the works upon which these interpretations are made lived and worked in the East End of Long Island, making the ubiquity of the local landscape’s presence in the abstractions at once mesmerizing and inevitable.
Considered the most advanced American art at the time, Abstract Expressionism was championed for being monumental in scale, romantic in mood, expressive of freedom and uniquely American in spirit. These works embody America’s willful rise out of the ashes after the world tried to destroy itself during the Second World War. Longo’s personal fascination with this era is no coincidence: he was born around the beginning of it and bore witness to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, an event which took place as the Abstract Expressionist influence was beginning to wane.
Pictures in the second gallery comprise The Agency of Faith, echoing our current state of affairs, and posing questions about our national and environmental narratives. A massive wave drawing anchors the visual energy of the gallery and serves as a reminder of nature’s enigmatic, unrelenting power. Longo’s connection to the ocean and surfing the East End goes back decades and inspired his creating the classic wave drawing–the largest wave Longo has made to date and specifically for this exhibition. A quiet wing of a fallen bird evinces nature’s vulnerability. Yet once the viewer encounters a drawing depicting a field of cotton alongside a drawing of a closely cropped Native American headdress, the seeming innocuousness of the natural imagery begins to unravel to expose a more provocative narrative. Longo presents us with captivating images both of our American crimes and answered calls to action, unleashing an urgency to acknowledge our shared burdens and therefore shared responsibilities. Longo’s signature, velvety charcoal chiaroscuro activates the power of beauty, seducing the viewer into a state of, if not unadulterated optimism, renewed faith in our agency to create possibilities for our future.
Guild Hall Exhibition
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