Robert Longo - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale London Wednesday, October 21, 2020 | Phillips

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  •  'A Longo drawing has the impact of a drive-in movie image glimpsed from the highway, and it exerts this graphic force with unabashed ease. The success of Pop Art granted everyone permission to bring high and low art into direct contact. Mixing irony with their enthusiasm for ready-made images, the Pop artists held as tight to their high culture positions as Marcel Duchamp ever did. So does Longo. His ambitions align him with the most prestigious traditions of the New York School. Considered not as pictures but as objects, these drawings display the signs of 'serious' post-war American art' —Carter Ratcliff

    Art as Ammo


    Executed monochromatically in charcoal and graphite on a monumental scale, Bodyhammer, 1993, is a captivating contradiction: dark and light, calming and antagonistic; beautiful and confrontational. A dichotomy between violence and serenity. The current work was exhibited at Metro Pictures in 1993 as part of a series titled ‘Bodyhammers’ that took as its subject the redolent image of the gun as an emblem of escalating violence in reaction to the growing concern of gun culture in America. Earlier that year, Longo’s 14-year-old son had returned home from the local basketball court in New York City recounting how another child had wielded a gun. ‘You didn’t have to be the strongest or the toughest kid anymore, you just needed to have a gun. It made me realise that I should pay more attention to guns.’i


    Longo, Film and American Society 


    The series takes its name and inspiration from a 1992 Japanese science-fiction, horror film ‘Tetsuo II: Bodyhammer’ in which a Japanese salary man, finds his body transfiguring into a weapon through pure fury after his son is kidnapped by a gang of violent brutes. Further blurring the lines between his film inspiration and output and Longo’s charcoal and graphite works on paper, the Bodyhammer series was created just prior to Longo’s directing of a filmic adaptation of William Gibson’s Johnny Mnemonic, allowing us to view the Bodyhammer in conjunction with the film and its content. Like that of the Japanese salary man, Johnny Mnemonic’s appeal to Longo is evident - as a technological repository, he is receptacle to notions and beliefs that are not his own - a suitable metaphor for what is a fundamental and reoccurring theme in Longo’s oeuvre: that of power- technological, political and cultural. Similarly, the gun is an object that amalgamates technology, the self, body, politics, society and technology: an embodiment of American society. 


    As Elaine Scarry notes in her analysis of physical suffering and its relation to the numerous vocabularies and cultural forces ‘Every weapon has two ends. In converting the other person’s pain into his power, the torturer experiences the entire occurrence exclusively from the non-vulnerable end of the weapon.’ii Longo’s absence of human presence in these works puts the viewer at both the stock and the barrel: the attacker and the victim: the powerful and the helpless.

     'Making art in itself is a political act – the freedom of expression. I don’t want to instruct or preach… I want to present something that has a visual impact, that lets the viewer make a decision.' —Robert Longo

    Shin'ya Tsukamoto’s film, Tetsuo II: Body Hammer, 1992
    Shin’ya Tsukamoto’s film, Tetsuo II: Body Hammer, 1992

    Extract from William Gibson’s Johnny Mnemonic:


    'I held the useless shotgun under my jacket. Its hardness and left were comforting, even thought I had no more shells. And it came to me that I had no idea at all of what was really happening, or of what was supposed to happen. And that was the nature of my game, because I'd spent most of my life as a blind receptacle to be filled with other people;s knowledge and then drained, spouting synthetic languages I'd never understand. A very technical boy. Sure.'iii 


    Viewing the Exhibition

    i Robert Longo, quoted in Mary Kaye Schilling, ‘Art as Ammo’, Newsweek, 15 June 2018
    ii Elaine Scarry, The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World, New York, 1987, p. 59
    iii William Gibson’s Johnny Mnemonic, online 

    • Provenance

      Metro Pictures, New York
      Galerie Hans Mayer, Dusseldorf
      Cotthem Gallery, Barcelona
      Private Collection, Brussels
      Sotheby's, London, 20 October 2008, lot 164
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      New York, Metro Pictures, Bodyhammers: Cult of the Gun, 30 October - 27 November 1993

    • Literature

      Robert Longo: A Retrospective. 1995, exh. cat., Isetan Museum of Art, Tokyo; Ashikaga Museum of Art; Kirin Plaza Osaka, 1995, p. 18 (illustrated)

Property from an Important Northern European Collection


Bodyhammer: Tec 9

charcoal and graphite on paper
265.2 x 167.4 cm (104 3/8 x 65 7/8 in.)
Executed in 1993.

Full Cataloguing

£150,000 - 200,000 

Sold for £126,000

Contact Specialist

Tamila Kerimova
Specialist, Head of Day Sale, Director

20th Century & Contemporary Art

+44 20 7318 4065

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale

London Auction 21 October 2020