It is just in the beginning of fall, when the leaves turn crisp for the very first time and we find ourselves in Berlin again: Of course – it’s Berlin Art Week. Our schedule couldn’t be more busy during this week full of art and adventures, and our first stop on Wednesday is the new Robert Longo exhibition at Captain Petzel. Located just behind Alexanderplatz, the exhibition space with its glass front, normally flooded by light, all of a sudden seems very mysterious. Fully covered with collages by the New York artist, we look up to a wild mix of fragments from his work: heads and lips, faces and hands, rockets and what seems to be the silhouette of a skyline; the gallery presents a little taste of what we will experience later. A clash of culture, images that could each have easily made it to the front page of spectacular news in magazines, not in a positive way though, the until now unpublished work in scraps has so many stories to tell.
As we enter the actual space, the exhibition takes place on three floors but the main part is presented in the entrance hall. We are astonished by the razor-sharp perspicuity, Longo’s visual virtue once again is expressed in each work. It seems like Longo is confronting us with reality and the state of our world, everything we have to deal with: power, abuse, wealth, health, loss, poverty, adventure, slavery, virtual reality and violence – just to name a few. So here we are, in Berlin. Staring at Robert Longo’s new pieces and his exquisite ability to translate these issues into a language of his own. We once went to a lecture about “The power of images”, and of course, it was all theory, pictures of works screened onto the canvas of the class room. Here, at Captain Petzel, we finally get a closer understanding of how powerful pictures can be.
To be an artist is not simply to be an isolated being in your studio, it’s to have a real and serious awareness of all the activities in the world. – Robert Longo
Longo, who deals with the fears, wishes, dreams and hopes of our generation and also includes the problems, chasms, developments and progresses of us humans, is laying his cards on the table without holding anything back. He said that the reason why he creates such images is not himself, but for a greater good. It is for everyone and he believes that being an artist means to question the norms of our civilisation and to speak openly about our values and what it means to live in the contemporary.
Looking at ‘Untitled’ (Terrorist Attack; November 2015, Paris;Homage to William Blake), we can see how fine and precise he works: from distance, the painting looks like a photography. His photorealistic style is impressive, and for this one we can literally get a taste of the visual-sharp smack of shattered glass, we feel like it has just been seconds after the shot, when the glass bursts into thousands of pieces.
Quite another matter is ‘Untitled (Sheer Virtue)’, one of the largest works at the exhibition. In reality, it might be nothing compared to a real iceberg but at the gallery space, it makes us hold our breath. However, Longo’s distinctive drawing style gets close to the monstrous size of these growlers. Every concave and convex form, the play with shadow and light, even the reflection of the sea at the picture’s edge: it seems astoundingly close to reality.
Another favourite of ours were the two architectural installations which were integrated in the space. Larger than a door and much more massive, both of them are on opposite sides at the gallery. Even from far, the viewer can read the engraved words. While one of the installations addresses a loss of something, the opposite one implies an increase of something else, or could also be interpreted as much needed expression of a growth of those things. This way, “Lost Memory, Lost Luggage, Lost Values, Lost Passion, Lost Generation, Lost Wisdom” are facing “More Sleep, More Luck, More Sex, More Nature, More TV, More Understanding”. On both sides, Longo enhances the dualism of our existence. We can gain something off a loss, and also lose something whilst rising. This contradiction depicts how complex the system we have to deal with daily, actually is.
Ultimately, he shows us what is happening in the world, with no filter, no alternation or adjustment; he uses his creation to express himself, to be the mirror as an artist. Because he succeeds in his work, an impressive œuvre arises and if we allow ourselves to enter, it can touch us deeply within. His new paintings interpret the diverse incidents from the past years with which we had to deal with – either personally, as citizens or as human beings in general. He emphasises the way our species has an effect on this planet and continues to bring on change, both in a positive and negative way.
Longo takes the dualism of good and bad, bright and dark, beautiful and bizarre onto another level: our own internal tension. On the one hand, we have a personal, egoistic demand of autonomy, asking for power and possession of all kinds; the one that puts ourself in the centre of everything and lets us act like a totalitarian. On the other hand, we find an individual loyalty, that wants to bring on real change and asks for awareness about politics, culture and society, and finally leaves all this puissance behind to overcome the unconscious in order to live in balance again.
On our way back, we have become quiet. We think about Robert Longo’s messages. What are we doing to change the world? And taking a closer look into our lives, what have we lost and what has increased? How do we feel about it? Longo’s “falling apart” convinces as a wholesome because we have transported the meaning of his new work into our minds and take the cue even further by speaking about it with our close ones, sharing it with friends and family. So when it comes down to it, isn’t this what art is all about? To inspire us. Make us rethink our choices in life. The way we live. After all, widening our horizon, both individually and collectively.