Robert Longo – I do fly / After summer merrily – Sep 10 – Oct 23, 2021 – Pace Gallery 540 West 25th Street New York

Robert Longo’s debut exhibition at Pace Gallery, I do fly / After summer merrily, will showcase the final installment of the artist’s Destroyer Cycle, a series of never-before-seen works examining notions of American power, violence, and mythmaking pulled from the “image storm” of society’s “culture of impatience.” In this series, Longo attempts to slow things down through the venerable medium of charcoal. Centered on themes of protest, freedom, and entropy, this suite of six large-scale charcoal drawings reflects on the turbulence of the current social and political circumstances while proposing an earnest hopefulness for the future.

Drawing inspiration from news photography and footage from the past year, these new works see Longo rendering poignant scenes of a country in crisis. The eerie and deeply compelling pieces in this timely exhibition center around events and collective experiences related to the political climate of 2020 and the devastation precipitated by the Coronavirus pandemic.

For the first time in seven years, Longo is presenting his large-scale charcoal drawings without the frames’ glazing, providing viewers with a more immediate and intimate experience of each mark. As a response to the installation’s lack of reflections, the artist has made the entire exhibition visible via a highly reflective stainless-steel polyhedron sculpture entitled Dürer’s Solid (2021), which, positioned in the middle of the gallery space, acts as the exhibition’s omniscient eye. A nod to the enigmatic, seemingly anachronistic forms represented in Albrecht Dürer’s engraving Melencolia I (1514), the collision of images reflected back to the viewer offers boundless readings of the surrounding works. Viewed from various positions in the space, the different facets of the sculpture fuse together discordant images, composing an improbable whole.

Longo’s development of the exhibition began with two images: an expanse of seats in an empty stadium, Untitled (Baseball Stadium) (2020), and a frenzied mass of bats, Untitled (The Cauldron) (2021). In making the former, the artist’s labor-intensive process of drawing each seat one-by-one became an act of filling up a space that individuals could not occupy. The graphic nature of the image situates it in the liminal space between representation and abstraction, which Longo has explored throughout his career.

Longo’s rendering of a swarm of bats in Untitled (The Cauldron) refers not only to the possible origin of the Coronavirus but also to the exhibition’s title, taken from Shakespeare’s The Tempest: “On the bat’s back I do fly / After summer merrily./ Merrily, merrily shall I live now / Under the blossom that hangs on the bough.” The artist has long been inspired by the visual effects of Shakespeare’s language. This particular quotation and its optimistic underpinnings resonated with him as the U.S. emerged from the pandemic with a new president.

Anchoring the exhibition is Longo’s Untitled Untitled (Robert E. Lee Monument Graffiti for George Floyd; Richmond, Virginia, 2020) (2021), which depicts the graffiti-covered surface of the only remaining Confederate statue on Richmond, Virginia’s Monument Avenue. In recent years, Longo’s works tracing the removals of Confederate statues have served as vehicles for the artist’s hope that America is beginning to grapple meaningfully with its iniquitous history. The deliberately cropped and flattened composition provides an intimate view of the range of power in each mark, from a boldly spray-painted gesture to sentiments written more subtly in Sharpie. A can of spray paint in the right of the composition signals Longo’s invitation for the audience to join the conversation.

Image: Robert Longo, Untitled (Robert E. Lee Monument Graffiti for George Floyd; Richmond, Virginia, 2020), 2021. Charcoal on mounted paper. 96 x 146 inches (243.8 x 370.8cm) © Robert Longo

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