Great art uses beauty as a tool to show us the ugly.
Artist Robert Longo is already in the art history books for unbelievably realistic charcoal drawings of intense imagery – from massive crashing waves to contorted “Men in Cities”. His newest work, on view at Metro Pictures this month, is a rare detour from his signature two-dimensional medium. A single sculpture titled “Death Star 2018” covered in 40,000 bullets hangs in the middle of the gallery. Measuring over 6 feet in diameter, it weighs 3,800 lbs.
Longo is unflinchingly direct with his art and his words and is a master of balancing his often-grave subject matter with sublime beauty and extreme precision. In Longo’s own words, “You don’t want to preach, you want to seduce.”
Though visually spectacular, “Death Star 2018” holds a gut-churning representation of life in America today. Every bullet represents a life lost to gun violence in the United States. It’s an “update” to his 1993 work by the same name, which held less than half the bullets (18,000 bullets).
A video on the gallery’s website shows the high-tech fabrication process with interview clips from the artist and founder of Neoset Designs in Brooklyn, Kostas Papalexious. The following are a few of the most surprising parts about that process from the 6 minute video (which you should watch in full here).
On the necessity of machine-carving the sphere:
Longo: “The machine aspect of this is really quite important to me, the precision of it is really important.”
Kostas: “A sphere is either a sphere or not a sphere. Period. At that scale, the slightest little imperfection would just be so obvious… The accuracy tolerance that we were given was sub-millimeter.”
On the chain that holds the 3,800 lb sphere:
Longo: “…it has to be a chain [holding the heavy ball]. There’s a great song by Nick Cave where he talks about a 10-ton catastrophe on a 60-pound chain, that’s kind of what gun violence is like. I want you to have the feeling that the ball could fall at any minute and roll over and crush you too.”
On avoiding patterns:
Longo: “We spent an enormous amount of time on this ball trying to eliminate patterns [in the bullets]. We worked with this young man, Alejandro, who worked for NASA on the military… I drove him nuts but he came up with so many variations of random patterns so when you look at it you don’t necessarily see a pattern. Which makes it so your eye is not comfortable. I would hope it will encourage you to move around it.”
“Death Star 2018” is a collision of seductive beauty and a tragic reality. It balances a statistic that’s difficult to see with a level of visual fascination that seduces every visitor to get closer and stay longer.
My favorite element however, is the small sentence at the end of the press release: “20% of the proceeds from the sale of Death Star 2018 will be donated to Everytown for Gun Safety”. Well done.
All images courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York.