- Robert Longo
- Study of Tiger Head 16
- signed, titled, dated 2012 and inscribed 3239
- graphite and charcoal on vellum
- Sheet: 60.2 by 48.2 cm, 23 3/4 by 18 7/8 in.
Image: 50.5 by 40.9 cm, 20 by 16 1/8 in.
Sotheby's, New York, November 14, 2013, lot 450
Opera Gallery, Hong Kong
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Based in New York City, Robert Longo is an American artist best known for his three-dimensional drawings in black and white. The artist rose to fame in the 1980s with the debut of his seminal “Men in the Cities” series where the artist created dynamic images of figures writhing, dancing and falling in dramatic movements. Based on photographs the artist shot himself, these works were executed through detailed chiseling of charcoal and graphite with an eraser, and the resulting photo-realistic drawings are extraordinary examples of the artist’s mastery of chiaroscuro and draughtsmanship as a sculptor.
Study of Tiger Head 16 is part of Robert Longo’s Mysteries series which began in 2009. In these recent works, the artist draws upon the theme of nature and animals, with tigers, sharks, waves and bomb explosions being the most recognizable subjects. As a child in the late 1950s and 1960s, the artist was fascinated by magazines such as Time, Life and Newsweek which would later influence his choice of black and white as the main pictorial style for his drawings. Images on the front covers of these publications - glamorous shots of Marylyn Monroe or a smiling politician - were always in colour, whilst pictures of war, poverty, natural disasters or nuclear tests were black and white. This would lead Longo to associate black and white with the truth, and would later inform his entire narrative oeuvre. Dominating the present work is a monumental tiger’s head at the foreground of the picture plane. Holding our gaze, the regal creature’s fiery gaze seems to dwarf the viewer with its majestic stillness and obliterate any outside noise. Study of Tiger Head 16 is raw, sublime and triumphant yet prophetically sinister. Coined “frozen moments” by the artist and “moments of climax” by postmodernist critic Hal Foster, these charcoal drawings are universal signifiers of virility and power “that mark the boiling point of the U.S. cultural imperium.” (Walter Robinson, “Robert Longo”, Man of the World, November 2012, n.p.) At once powerful and endangered, the tiger perfectly exemplifies the artist’s concern with man-made natural disasters, the consequence of our patriarchal imperialism and interference with Nature. Throughout Chinese history, the tiger has been perceived as a symbolic animal that represents power, masculinity and beauty. Inciting awe and admiration, the tiger is regarded as one of the four hyper-intelligent creatures, along with the dragon, phoenix and tortoise; for centuries, the four have been a major design motif in Chinese art, as exemplified by renowned Chinese ink painter Zhang Shanzi’s Tiger on a Cliff from 1928.
Robert Longo has won several awards and his work has enjoyed retrospective exhibitions at international venues including the Hamburger Kunstverein and Deichtorhallen, the Menil Collection in Houston, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, the Hartford Athenaeum and the Isetan Museum of Art in Tokyo. His work is represented in distinguished collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis; the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam; the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris; the Albertina in Vienna; and the Ludwig Museum in Cologne. A larger example of the present work achieved the lofty price of $1,575,000 USD when it was sold at a charity auction in 2013.