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Robert Longo Drawings: Engines of State

Past Exhibition

March 26 – June 11, 2023
East Building Tower 3

Notice for visitors:

Engines of State will close on June 11 due to an unexpected, extended outage of our main freight elevator in the East Building. This outage affects our ability to make the installation accessible to all visitors. We will announce a reopening date when elevator service has been restored. 

Robert Longo (b. 1953) is perhaps best known as a leading artist of the “Pictures Generation”—a group of artists who were influenced by the self-reflective, critical principles of Conceptual and Pop Art during the 1970s and 1980s. They collaged and modified existing images from mass media and other sources, exploring how such images are constructed to convey a deliberate point of view. These artists were the first generation to experience the cumulative impact of television, video, film, and computer technologies, alongside print media and radio, and were intrigued by how this shapes our perception of the world.

Robert Longo, The Forest (White House), 2019, charcoal on three sheets of paper mounted to aluminum, Gift of Clifford Ross, 2023.6.2.a-c

The installation in the East Building Tower 3 galleries celebrates the recent gift of a suite of three grand drawings by Longo, Engines of State, 2012–2019: The Forest (White House), 2019; The Whale (United States Capitol), 2012–2013; and The Rock (The Supreme Court of the United States—Split), 2018. The donor, artist Clifford Ross, saw the US Capitol drawing when it was first exhibited in 2014. Encountering it again in 2022 displayed next to Longo’s drawings of The White House and The Supreme Court, Ross determined that the three works belonged together at the National Gallery, and generously brought this idea to fruition.

Robert Longo, The Whale (The United States Capitol), 2012-2013, charcoal on seven sheets of paper mounted to aluminum, Gift of Clifford Ross, 2023.6.1.a-g

Depicting the three coequal branches of the United States government (the executive, legislative, and judicial), the drawings are based on preexisting photographs and video images that the artist combines or alters, translating them with painstaking detail into charcoal. From afar, Longo’s drawings appear photographic. Closer inspection, however, reveals a carefully orchestrated composition of hand-drawn, powdery abstract forms and marks. Longo’s myriad aesthetic choices contribute to the emotional tenor of each work and go beyond simple visual transcription, setting them apart from the stream of live and full-color images we encounter daily. The astonishing size, laborious creation, and the stark black-and-white tonal palette of these drawings combine to raise our awareness of the act of looking, to question not only what we are seeing but why we are seeing it.

Robert Longo, The Rock (The Supreme Court of the United States--Split), 2018, charcoal on two sheets of paper mounted to aluminum, Gift of Clifford Ross, 2023.6.3.a-b

Organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington

Admission is always free and passes are not required