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Screenshot from the Style.com video about Robert Longo’s photo shoot with Bottega Veneta.

Something just gotta die for new things to take root and one of those things seems to be a certain sense of 1980s cool that never left New York and continues to influence artists to make hollow parodies of corporatism as if commenting on it was enough.

Robert Longo is the king of that detached world of 80s über-cool, though in retrospect the whole “movement” (if we can call it that) was nothing like its PR. Sure, one could be fooled into thinking that Longo’s corporate figures writhing out of control were comments on the culture of the time, perhaps even foreboding what was to come — Reaganomics, corporate avarice, an extreme form of alienation — but did we really think it would lead to advertisements for Bottega Veneta?

Robert Longo, “Men Trapped in Ice” (1979) (Rubell Collection)

Recently, the 1980s art star has been hired to Bottega Veneta to creative an ad campaign and I can’t think of a more effective way for Longo to have hollowed out any profound meaning to his iconic works than to make them into mannequins for a luxury brand. What is he thinking? Can a campaign like this do anything but destroy any formative meaning to the works. At the end of day art does involve a manner of style and artists are welcome to sell-out to anyone but Longo’s series seems to take a swipe at his original series.

Longo isn’t the only one shilling for Bottega Veneta, Nan Goldin is doing the same, and while her works are a far cry from the marginal subjects that made her famous, she did have the good judgment not to directly quote from her most famous work. Yet Longo, who has never done an ad campaign before, chose to do this one? According to an interview in W Magazine he says the reason is partly the iPod:

But ever since Apple launched its iPod ads featuring silhouetted hipsters jumping around, he has felt a twinge of envy (mixed, he admits, with irritation) toward what he sees as the appropriation of his seminal Eighties work.

Longo seems honored to have been asked to pimp the brand:

“He said something to the effect of ‘Instead of ripping you off, we want to hire you,’” Longo says. “They got me at hello.”

I personally don’t really see the similarities between the iPod ads and the Men in Cities series that Longo sees. In my opinion, the Apple ads seem to refer as much to the writhing figures of the Renaissance or Baroque — which Longo was undoubtedly referencing in his original series, think Bernini’s “Ecstasy of Saint Teresa” (1647-52) — and the Apple ads involve more positive feelings like joy or excitement. Longo’s silhouetted figures, on the other hand, are more fixated on darker emotions like pain, confusion, and seem often on the verge of collapes. Even those Longo figures that tend towards ecstacy and serenity seem tinged with something more sobering.

Regardless, if it’s possible to diminish a great art series than Longo has found a way. I hope he really needed to money, because otherwise I don’t see the reason why he did this. Ego, perhaps?

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.

20 replies on “Robert Longo Parodies Himself”

  1. Longo figures weren’t members the corporate workforce — they only look like yuppies now. His friends were all in bands and wore the clothes they normally wore to the shoots. In that light I think the ipod connection makes a little more sense — Men in the City’s were filled with music geeks.

    As an aside I’d also note that the work’s a little less cheese-y if you think of it as a document of that 80’s music and band subculture, as opposed to a surface critique of the stresses of Wall Street.

    1. I know that Cindy Sherman and other friends of his were models but I think they were perceived in the emergence of the yuppie world — though that term was formed much later — but I do think that they resonated with people not because of the subculture reference but because of how they echoed mainstream anxiety about corporate culture, etc.

      And yes, thanks, your perception makes them feel a little less cheese-y 🙂

      1. These drawings were very successful at the time they were made not just when yuppie corporate culture came to prominence. I do think it’s important to acknowledge that history.

        1. Point taken, but the yuppie didn’t come out of nowhere. Corporate culture had permeated American culture before then. I always saw the yuppy as more a “pinnacle” of that emerging culture. Though I still hate the Bottega Veneta series. Boy, do I wish he didn’t do that.

  2. I’m optimistic about the sellout. After a few years, everyone’s going to forget that Longo ever did anything for Veneta. The mannequins will be gone in a season, and the whole thing will be a footnote in Longo’s massive list of exhibitions.

    It is interesting to think through the connections between music, art, fashion, and corporatism and the ways they affect each other, too. There is so much bleed-over now.

    1. You may be right, Mead, but the thing about pop culture is that it has a life of its own and has a strange way of changing everything that is fed into the massive industry that is pop culture.

  3. Fashion is envious of fine art’s privileged status in the culture, since both are creative, stylish endeavors doing business in the luxuries market, promoting singular genius; artists, designers. To me this is less about Longo selling out and more about Veneta trying to ape fine arts “specialness,” which never quite works. Longo’s rep won’t suffer. This is something like Yves Saint Laurent’s Mondrian dress, or the more recent YSL Raspail painted canvas bag looking a lot like Clyfford Still.
    Then again, it was corny when Elizabeth Peyton did the Marc Jacobs ad, when Richard Prince made the Louis Vuitton bags and this is corny as hell too.

    1. Good point. I also think there is a level of envy by contemporary artists to ape (I love that you used that word) the mass celebrity of fashion people.

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