Robert Longo: A History of the Present

Assemblage of two works in Longo's exhibition: Untitled (After Pollock, Convergence, 1952), 2020. Charcoal on mounted paper, 84 1/8 x 140 inches. Untitled (Field of Cotton, Alabama), 2019. Charcoal on mounted paper, 88 1/4 x 70 inches.
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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.

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August 7, 6-8PM: Meet Robert Longo in the Galleries

August 17, 7PM: Robert Longo and Shirin Neshat in Conversation
Artists Robert Longo and Shirin Neshat will discuss process of visual artists making and directing films

August 17, 8:30PM: Screening of Johnny Mnemonic Introduced by Robert Longo
New Black & White conversion of the 1995 action drama starring Keanu Reeves

August 31, 7PM: Robert Longo Documentary Film by The Artist Profile Archive Followed by a Q&A with Robert Longo, Filmmaker Sophie Chahinian, and moderated by Christina Mossaides Strassfield

September 25, 3PM: Gallery Tour with Christina Mossaides Strassfield

  • Robert Longo

    Robert Longo (b. 1953) is a New York-based artist, filmmaker, and musician. After attending Buffalo State University New York, he moved to New York City in 1977. That same year, he showed in Pictures curated by Douglas Crimp, the first exhibition to contextualize a young group of artists who were turning away from Minimalism and Conceptualism and instead towards image-making, inspired by newspapers, advertisements, film, and television. Longo became known as a leading protagonist of the "Pictures Generation," working across drawing, photography, painting, sculpture, performance, and film.

    His work is represented in numerous major museums and private collections all over the world, including the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, in New York; The Broad Collection, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris; and the Albertina in Vienna. Robert Longo lives and works in New York and is represented by Metro Pictures, NYC and Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, London, Paris, Salzburg.


Principal Sponsor: Lucio and Joan Noto 
Lead Sponsors: Susan and Olive Numeroff in memory of Marvin Numeroff, Fern and Lenard Tessler, Alison and Donald Weiss, and public funding provided by Suffolk County 
Co-Lead Sponsors: Bloomberg Philanthropies, Jacqueline Brody, Robert Lehman Foundation, Metro Pictures, Elin and Michael Nierenberg, Dayna and Steve Novenstein, and Pace Gallery 
Additional support: Shari and Jeff Aronson, Carol and Arthur Goldberg, Agnes Gund, and Deborah and David Roberts 
Special thanks to Saunders & Associates
Guild Hall’s museum programs are made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature, the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, an anonymous donor, Peggy J. Amster, Crozier Fine Arts, and funding from The Michael Lynne Museum Endowment, and The Melville Straus Family Endowment.
Free admission is generously funded by Dime Community Bank and Landscape Details.

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