Robert Longo Drawings: Engines of State
The installation in the East Building Tower 3 galleries celebrates the recent gift of a suite of three grand drawings by Robert 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.
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.