April 30, 2019
Amerika at the Metro Pictures Gallery is the first in a two-part exhibition curated by the artist himself, Robert Longo. The second half of the exhibition, Fugitive Images, will also be shown at Metro Pictures after Amerika closes. This selection of three large installations is a continuation of Longo’s Destroyer Cycle, a series of works exploring power and politics.
Walking into a long, empty space, a sparkling gold ball of light called to me from the back of the room. An x-shaped support system suspended the ball from a chain, giving the orb air to breathe while reinforcing the heaviness of its visual weight. I didn’t know what I was looking at, but it was big, shiny, and interesting. My intrigue drew me closer to the sphere, bringing into focus some 40,000 assault riffle bullets. This moment of clarity brought the point of Amerika to the forefront of my mind, simultaneously, killing any curiosity that enticed me thus far.
Death Star 2018 (2018), the piece mentioned above, inhabits a room to itself. In the gallery space behind it, Untitled (White House) (2019) hangs high on a wall, looking over the audience. This exquisite and enormous charcoal drawing of the White House depicts an ominous scene of dead earth and whirling skies. Separated on the second floor in a black box, Icarus Rising (2019) is a single channel, black and white video. This large wall projection shows printed photographs from the media, both historical and contemporary, being ripped by hand. Taken as a whole or separately, the critical glare of Amerika is hard to miss: this is precisely what I find so blasé.
Nothing about this show is challenging to interpret. The most challenging
aspect of this work is walking across the room to get a closer look. Knowing the title “Amerika” and noticing the ball is made of bullets, the critical conceit of gun control in America is as obvious as the day is long. It begs the question: who is this show for? The socially cognizant message of Amerika is a drop in the ocean of liberal critique. This exhibition panders to the exact type of New York elites who pat themselves on the back for having the most progressive politics. Rather than placing Amerika in the liberal echo chamber of Chelsea, wouldn’t this exhibition be more exciting in Middle America? How would the Bible Belt receive Amerika? If the aim of this show is to explore power and politics in America, it only seems fit to stage this intervention somewhere where it hasn’t already happened countless times over.