From the Freud Drawings, untitled (Small Chair, Study Room 1938)
“I am not a cynic. I strongly believe in great things, in enthusiasm and passion. At the same time they challenge me, fill me with anger and fighting spirit. Somewhere in-between schizoid obscenity and utopia I hope to be able to realize my works.“
The American Robert Longo (born 1953) is considered one of the most important historical painters of the 21st century. Since the 1970’s, the artist has utilized the power of mass media, such as photography, film, advertising, and comics for his art. For this reason, Longo alongside Cindy Sherman or John Baldessari is considered to be one of the most important protagonists of the Appropriation Art.
Already in the 1970’s, Longo started experimenting with different media and techniques like combine-paintings, sculptural, and multimedia installations. In 1979, he had his breakthrough with Men in the Cities, a series of small-sized charcoal drawings. Central to his work is often a critique of the ecstasies and horrors of the postmodern society, the struggle for political and economic power as well as the dark side of our media society. Since the 1990’s, Longo has increasingly turned towards the intimacy of drawing (Magellan 366 Drawings, 1986). Large photorealistic charcoal drawings have become his trademark since 1999 (The Freud Cycle, 2000-2004).
His works are exhibited worldwide, including the Menil Collection in Houston, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, “Museen Haus Lange” and “Haus Esters” in Krefeld and “Albertina Museum” in Vienna. In 1987 he was represented at the documenta 8 in Kassel and in 1997 at the Venice Biennale. In 2005 Longo received “Der Kaiserring” prize by the city of Goslar.
Untitled (Small Chair Study Room 1938) from 2002 is a charcoal drawing from The Freud Cycle. The works from this series are based on the photographs of Edmund Engelman, who documented the apartment and practice of Sigmund Freud in the Berggasse 19 in Vienna on June 4, 1938, before Freud was forced to leave the country.
Longo was not only fascinated by the historic dimensions of the photographs, the references to the Jewish genocide and to the crimes of the national socialists. He also discovered a personal connection to the images, as they reminded him of his father’s doctor‘s medical practice in New York. With his charcoal drawings he therefore created a „mixture“ of Freud’s apartment and his childhood memories: „I think making art is a process of finding the right balance between the social world outside and the personal world inside and tuning into that dynamic.“
Unique about Longo’s work is the sheer size of his drawings, which is unusual for this medium: „I see drawing and photography as having similar qualities. They were the „bastard“ art forms. There was the high art of painting and sculpture and there was photography and drawing, their illegitimate children.“ It is important for him that his drawings appear to be photographs from afar: „Photography is our collective memory,“ he proclaims. In contrast, at a close range the viewer shall be drawn into the drawing through its intimacy, or „Intimate immensity,” as Longo calls it.