Reality in Black and White

I'm very much into art. After having seen trizillions of beautiful, alluring, enchanting works of arts, I enjoy it most when an exhibition - or even an individual artist - surprise me.

Soft strokes become sharp splinters.
Robert Longo Untitled (Bullet Hole in Window, January 7, 2015)
(Courtesy Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac © Robert Longo/ VG Bild-Kunst Bonn, 2018)

Last weekend, I got surprised by Robert Longo - he baffled me with reality in black and white.

I cannot even remember when was the last time I haven't spent Easter abroad: Either I was on a longer trip at that time, anyway, or if not, I took the chance to go on a long weekend to Paris, Madrid, or any other European city.

Not this year.

So what to do when the weather is nice enough for a long walk, but not nice enough to spend outdoors when not walking? Going for a walk to an exhibition!

And we were lucky enough that our long walk across Hamburg lead us more or less straight to the Deichtorhallen, a venue I have introduced for the first time when Bill Viola's breathtaking videos where screened there.

Anyway, at this moment there is an exhibition on three very different artists taking place - united by dealing with political and social topics of their times: Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, a Spanish romantic painter and printmaker, active in the late 18th and early 19th century, Sergei Eisenstein, world famous Russian film pioneer, dedicating his art strongly to the communist idea and revolutionary movement; and Robert Longo, born in Brooklyn in 1953. He became really famous in the 1980s for his "Men in the Cities" series - depicting sharply dressed people frozen in some sort of spasm; very 80s, indeed.
Funny thing is, Robert Longo still looks like from the 80s: He is like a mix of Lou Reed and Jim Jarmush - how much more New Yorker can you get?!

Robert Longo in Hamburg - standing in front of his hyper realistic charcoal drawings Untitled (Pentecost) (to the left) and Untitled (Raft at Sea) (to the right, a triptych depicting refugees on a raft amidst the Mediterranean sea)
(Photo: Deichtorhallen/© Thomas Mayer)

However, his recent work - many of the pieces are actually from 2017 - is much more impressive than the former stuff: He makes large scale hyper realistic pieces - often triptychs - and you have to get really, really close to actually see that they are not black and white photographs; really close!

Besides the perfect trompe-l'œil appearance its mainly the image's reference to recent social and political occurrences and problems - the black and white - that hits you pretty hard: Whether it's air strikes in Syria, refugees on a raft, the wailing wall, or a group of football players raising their hands as a symbol of the 'black life matters'-movement - Longo clearly takes a stand, especially regarding American issues.

Now, I am into hyper realism, anyways, admiring German super star Gerhard Richter and loving Swiss Franz Gertsch for his portraits from the 70s.

One of my all time favorite paintings by Franz Gertsch Franz und Luciano 
(From the permanent collection of the Kunsthaus Zürich) 

But what makes Robert Long's images - which are up to 7 meters high (23 feet) - so outstanding is that he isn't using paint; he is using charcoal, a medium not necessarily known for being very fine. But Longo achieves the most detailed, sharp and nuanced effects with it.
As a matter of fact, what impressed us most were his drawings of ice - structuring white by using black coal is a task for the greatest masters; hence for Robert Longo.

What a masterpiece! We had to literally crawl into the picture to see that we were not looking at a photograph.
Robert Longo Untitled (American Bald Eagle)
Ståhl Collection, Norrköping, Sweden.
(© Robert Longo/VG Bild-Kunst Bonn, 2018)

We were just walking from drawing to drawing, looking from far, letting the images tricking us. Getting closer, trying to find parts that give Longo's works away for not being photographs.
We had to get close, really close, staring at lines and shadows and blotches, identifying strokes, demystifying his work - and at the same time admiring it even more.

As often in life, a close look will shatter the illusion: The faithful are just white blotches.
 Robert Longo Untitled (Mecca).
(Private Collection © Robert Longo)

Robert Longo surprised me a lot. With his technique and with his very clear political messages.

Oh, before I totally forget: There are drawings and etchings by Goya and film stills by Eisenstein in this threesome exhibition, too.

The exhibition PROOF, which took place in Moscow and Brooklyn before being shown in Hamburg, can be seen till May 27, 2018 at

Deichtorhallen Hamburg/Halle für aktuelle Kunst
Deichtorstr. 1-2
20095 Hamburg

Opening hours are Tuesday to Sunday from 11 a. m. to 6 p. m.


  1. Stunning! I have always loved the combination black and white.

  2. I can't believe his paintings and drawings aren't photographs! They are amazing - so detailed and life like! I also like being surprised by artists, and this definitely surprised me :) x


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