Robert Longo’s sharks in charcoal
Right. Back from the south of France. Just sun, food & wine, and my laps in the swimming pool, that was the daily regime I had vowed to go and live by for a few weeks. But when I noticed that Nice’s Mamac had an exhibition of the American artist Robert Longo, I just had to go and take a look. Longo’s paintings were on Patrick Bateman’s walls in American psycho, he directed Johnny Mnemonic and video’s for New Order and R.E.M.
It was a strange contrast. Stepping from the Mediterranean sea of colours of oleanders and bougainvillea into the black and white-world of Robert Longo (56). Nice’s Mamac (Musée d’Art moderne et d’Art contemporain) is filled with his big black and white-paintings of sharks, waves, dancing people, guns and planets.
Those ‘dancing’ people is what New Yorker Longo (a neighbour of author Paul Auster) is probably most known for. One of those paintings was on the wall of Patrick Bateman’s apartment in American psycho. It helped to create that typical eighties yuppie-look. Longo himself probably had his peak in those years too, when a new generation of wealthy art lovers emerged. He studied at Buffalo State College (New York), where he met Cindy Sherman. She was one of the first models for his Men in the cities-series. Longo directed Johnny Mnemonic (with Keanu Reeves), and shot video’s for New Order (Bizarre love triangle), R.E.M. (The one I love). He is married to German actress Barbara Sukowa.
The exhibition in Nice is the first important retrospective of Longo’s work in Europe since ’91. If it’s impressive, it’s mostly for Longo’s craftsmanship. You wonder how he succeeds in creating that picture-like effect, just by using charcoal and graphite on paper. Quite often you find yourself checking the paintings out from up close, to try and see how it’s done. But all of them remain quite ‘cold’. They don’t puzzle you or make you think or wonder. In that sense, to me, his art is quite one-dimensional. Therefore I was rather charmed by one of his latest, really huge drawings, Cathedral of light. For me, that just had that intangible little ‘extra’ that I want to get from art.
‘Shark 14’ (2008), collection of the artist / ‘Men in the cities (3 Eric A-B-C)’ (1980/2000), collection Emilio Mazzoli / ‘Cathedral of light’ (2008-2009), collection Siegfried Weishaupt
(images courtesy of Mamac, Nice)