BY Collier Schorr in Reviews | 05 JAN 94
Featured in
Issue 14

Robert Longo

BY Collier Schorr in Reviews | 05 JAN 94

November was a banner month for firearms. In the greater New York area 252 people were shot, 105 of which subsequently died. Politicians debated, philibustered and eventually passed the 'Brady Bill', a piece of legislation designed to slow down the gun purchasing process by way of a paltry five-day waiting period.

In the month of November Robert Longo drew guns. Long and lean, they posed like Vargas girls. Legs for miles and just a peek underneath the hood. Too elegant to be beefcake and too cautious to be manly, Longo hewed hermaphrodite objects complete with dark chambers and tubular shafts. The gun is unquestionably simplistic as logogram. It is no great feat to chastise those who incorporate its image into decorative art, and all too easy for viewers to be temporarily moved by the power the symbol connotes. Out of eight drawings of various handguns, three are shamelessly imbued with a glamorising aura. They exude a pin-up quality almost splay-legged, and suggest the poster-filled bedroom of a sociopath. They are also the least altered, the most in love with themselves. A further quartet of guns are drawn head on, the focal point being the 'black hole' at the end of the barrel. Longo's play on perspective seems to melt the pistols, shaping them into something less recognisable, therefore more menacing. One wall is reserved for a loaded Smith & Wesson, the chamber stuffed and exposed. This is the beaver shot, the one that really titllates. This is theone that separates the toys from the heavy metal.

Awesome in size and exquisite in formation, Longo's guns are perfectly inane. They are immovable accessories to his more vulnerable 'men in cities'. While his portraits of men's bodies flailing in the wind were fragile, his same-size guns have overtaken the frame. This study of weaponry stops a precious few inches short of adoration; a departure from fellow 'pictures' artist Richard Prince's fanciful infatuation with gun subculture. Longo has a healthy respect for the 'doomsday' machines that guns have become. While the scale might suggest otherwise, Longo's aim seems to be to abandon the 'heroic' as defined by adolescent fantasy and to depict a steady impenetrable and ultimately less entertaining icon.

By including a granite tombstone inscribed with the word 'BODYHAMMER' (also the title of the drawings) Longo makes it overwhelmingly clear that his intention is to dramatise the devastation wrecked by the proliferation of handgun ownership. His work in set and costume design is apparent here in his attempts to engage the viewer in a theatrical experince. (It is interesting to recall Gary Simmons exhibition in the same space in September, which featured African-American youth - the primary victims of gun violence - in poses that played on White fear of Black.)

If we see Longo's drawings as beautiful, which they most certainly are, then his project is a successful one. These works challenge each viwer's ability to get it up for guns. Can they still get us hot, the show seems to ask. Do we still fantasize about strapping one on? Do we wonder what it would be like to carry? Longo flirts with these television-nurtured daydreams. His fetishized attention to rendering leaves one with the impression that Bodyhammer: Cult of the Gun is an exercise in prurience as well as panic.

Collier Schorr is an artist and photographer based in New York, USA.