In Men in the Cities (1979-1987), archetypical figures twist, jerk, convulse, and appear to fall in front of city skylines. These visually assaulting photographs of elegant men and women dressed in corporate attire by American artist Robert Longo were influenced by images in the media and iconic films. On the rooftop of his New York studio, Longo photographed friends and models in contorted positions, capturing their poses as they reacted to the rubber balls and rocks that were thrown at them. These photographs were originally used as source material for Longo’s iconic pencil drawings, which were exhibited and reproduced extensively in the 80s. Portraying the body against a white background devoid of context, his drawings depicted the figure without a ground. Three decades later, the photographs were printed and shown as artworks in their own right.
The ambiguity and timelessness of each melodramatic still invites the viewer to explore its interchangeable meanings, which shift depending on the frame of reference. During the 80s, this body of work was associated with punk rock music, film noir, and conceptual art practices that subverted the power of image-making through the staging of scenes and appropriation of mainstream media. For the present-day viewer, these images allude to contemporary social and cultural references, such as the TV show Mad Men, with its stylized opening sequence of a lone businessman falling from grace. Longo’s series also recalls the stark real-life horrors of 9/11, when office workers were seen jumping to their deaths. Along the sidewalk of Metro Hall in Toronto’s theatre district, these 13 larger-than-life figures perform “moments of impact.” It remains unclear whether their forever-twisting bodies are captured in a frenzied dance, in the throes of ecstasy, or writhing in agony.
Presented in partnership with Ernst and Young LLP and Toronto Cultural Services, City of Toronto.
Images courtesy of Adamson Gallery, Washington DC.