Robert Longo focuses our attention on images familiar to us and transforms them into large-scale drawings in charcoal to create what he calls “the perfect image.” His visual language developed out of an acknowledgment of and reverence for media images—what the artist refers to as “the image storm” that surrounds us.
Since the 1980s, Longo has been associated with the Pictures Generation, a group of artists who understood images as neither neutral nor objective but rather with an inherent point of view that could be uncovered, revealed, and deployed as a form of critique and beauty.
Central to the exhibition are Longo’s monumental works representing the three branches of the US government: the Capitol, the Supreme Court, and the White House. Each source image is marked by a critical moment in recent U.S. history—respectively, the presidency of Barack Obama, disputed nominations to the Supreme Court, and the presidency of Donald Trump—and serve as references for key points in contemporary history.
Also included in the exhibition are four large-scale works that refer to issues of environmental reform, the representation of history through its monuments, the perils faced by immigrants, and the fragility of the free press. The political aspects of Longo’s work have become increasingly pointed in recent years—with focus on power, justice, and humanity, through the perspective of rage and urgency.
Longo’s practice begins with identifying a subject of interest and then searching for images in the media or by photographing them himself, which he then studies, adjusts, transforms, and reimagines. Although Longo’s images are so hyperrealistic that they are often mistaken for photographs, they could never exist as such. Each work of art is the result of months of labor-intensive processes to plan, alter, perfect, and then execute. However, the results are closer to history paintings, not only in their massive scale—mounted on paper seamed together to total, in some cases, 12 feet tall—but also in their weighty subjects.
This exhibition is organized by the Palm Springs Art Museum and curated by Rochelle Steiner, originating curator, and Christine Giles, senior curator.
Support is provided by Steven A. Brown & Richard M. Cain, Diane Klein & Veronica M. Fernandez, and Roswitha Kima Smale.
Additional support is provided by Metro Pictures, New York, and Jeffrey Deitch.
In-kind support provided by The Art Collective.
This season’s exhibitions are sponsored by the Herman & Faye Sarkowsky Charitable Foundation.