The Caprices (Los Caprichos) is a set of eighty etchings created between 1797 and 1798. On view in the exhibition are thirteen examples of the Brooklyn Museum’s rare “trial proof” set, which is composed of early impressions of a print made by the artist prior to the published edition. In the first part of the series, Goya critiques the characters, institutions, and values of early modern Spanish society; the second focuses on bizarre and macabre imagery.
Six examples are shown in the exhibition from Goya’s final and most enigmatic print series—The Proverbs (Los Proverbios), also known as The Follies (Los Disparates)—created between 1815 and 1823. The series was published in 1864, thirty-six years after Goya’s death, under the title The Proverbs, although Goya’s own captions for the working proofs include the word disparates, meaning ‘‘follies,’’ which explains the disputed title. Similarly ambiguous are the plates themselves, which, unlike those of the other series, have no specific order. The dreamlike content ranges from harmlessly satirical to gruesome and absurd.
Ten selections are on view in the exhibition from The Art of Bullfighting (La Tauromaquía), a set of 33 etchings created by Goya in 1815–16. The series can be understood as a genealogy of modern bullfighting, tracing the origins of the art of the corrida from its Moorish roots to the sport that existed in Goya’s time. La Tauromaquía has been variously interpreted: some argue that these etchings are in praise of bullfighting, while others speculate that Goya was being critical of this Spanish tradition, denouncing the practice as violent and cruel. The etchings are displayed like a filmstrip, to accentuate the movement and almost cinematic compositions.
Untitled (Black Pussy Hat in Women’s March) has a head as its focal point, that of an anonymous woman at the New York women’s march on January 21, 2017. This work offers a hopeful note, placing the viewer within the crowd of protesters. Upon close inspection, the meticulous detail fades into mere suggestions of forms at the light-filled vanishing point, portending an unknown future.
Longo often explores how a brutal reality can be portrayed artistically, even beautifully. Untitled (Bullet Hole in Window, January 7, 2015) depicts the splintered glass door of the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine in Paris, after twelve staff members were killed in a terrorist attack in January 2015. The drawing is sourced from several magnified photographs and encapsulates both the violence of the murders and an overall threat to free expression. Nevertheless, as an abstract form it retains both delicacy and a graceful sense of movement.
At a time of civil strife in this country, Longo examines not only opposition between government and citizenry but the way images create and complicate meaning. Untitled (St. Louis Rams/Hands Up) relates to the tragic death of Michael Brown, shot by police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9, 2014, and the subsequent national outrage and protests. The gesture of “hands up, don’t shoot” came to define the aftermath of Ferguson and successive demonstrations opposing police violence against black Americans.
The singular figure in the football uniform refers to Kenny Britt, a player on the then St. Louis Rams who organized his teammates to join him in the “hands up” gesture before a game in 2014. Longo connects Britt’s act in support of civil rights to another famous example from sports: Tommie Smith and John Carlos’s black power salute on the medal podium at the 1968 Olympic Games. Like other depictions of political demonstrations, these images are continually repeated in the media. As a result, over time they may be recalled only as icons, divorced from the realities of the activism they enact.
The nine-panel Untitled (Mecca) portrays Islam’s holiest city, the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad and the faith itself, where Muslims make an annual pilgrimage called the Hajj. The work’s monumental scale echoes the awesome significance, beauty, spectacle, and mass of the event. Viewed up close, certain details blur, making portions of the drawing unrecognizable and perhaps conveying the experience of being an individual in a large crowd, unable to perceive it in its entirety.
In connection with the exhibition Proof: Francisco Goya, Sergei Eisenstein, Robert Longo, the Brooklyn Museum presents an original flag by Robert Longo. This project is part of Creative Time’s Pledges of Allegiance, a serialized commission of sixteen flags by contemporary artists. Longo’s flag will fly beneath the American and New York City flags on the flagpole near the Museum entrance, and at several other cultural institutions nationwide, from September 13 through October 10. The design for the flag is based on Longo’s 2016 large-scale charcoal drawing, Untitled (Nov. 8, 2016), now on view in the Museum’s fifth-floor American galleries.
Rendered in black and white and composed of two bifurcated panels, Longo’s reimagined American flag alludes to the recent election of Donald Trump. A self-proclaimed progressive liberal, Longo designed the left panel to contain more stars than the right, though the right panel is slightly larger. The stark separation depicted in both the drawing and the flag itself speaks to an intensely divisive political climate, and ongoing discussion and disagreements about American identity.
Proof: Francisco Goya, Sergei Eisenstein, Robert Longo
September 8, 2017–January 7, 2018
At particular moments in history, artists use their artwork to reveal social, cultural, and political complexities, responding to the times in which they live. Bringing together the work of three innovative chroniclers, Proof: Francisco Goya, Sergei Eisenstein, Robert Longo offers insight into the energy, empathy, and creativity with which these artists recounted and reimagined their realities.
Together spanning four centuries and three continents, Spanish artist Francisco Goya (1746–1828), Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein (1898–1948), and contemporary American artist Robert Longo (born 1953) each witnessed a turbulent transition from one era to another and the profound repercussions of revolution, war, and civil unrest. Within a broad chronological framework, Proof traces the historical lineage of a visual language and artistic impulse.
Featuring artwork almost exclusively in black and white, Proof showcases the artists’ technical acuity and bold experimentation in three mediums: etching, film, and charcoal drawing. With a rare combination of selections, it invites viewers to find new meaning in artworks not normally encountered together. These works call to mind images—such as mutiny on a Russian battleship, or American riot police standing guard at a political protest—that are usually represented through journalistic coverage, yet they express the artists’ personal, often emotional, perspectives. As the exhibition title suggests, Goya, Eisenstein, and Longo together provide proof not only of significant events or actions, but more crucially of their ongoing resonances through art.
Proof: Francisco Goya, Sergei Eisenstein, Robert Longo is initiated by Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow, and curated by Kate Fowle, Garage Chief Curator, in collaboration with Robert Longo. The Brooklyn Museum presentation is organized by Sara Softness, Assistant Curator, Special Projects, Brooklyn Museum.
Generous support for this exhibition is provided by Metro Pictures, Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, The Faro Foundation, and the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation.
A fully illustrated companion book, Proof: Francisco Goya, Sergei Eisenstein, Robert Longo, with essays by journalist, activist, and author Chris Hedges; artist Vadim Zakharov; and Kate Fowle; as well as an interview with Robert Longo, will be published in Russian and English. The English edition features a foreword by Anne Pasternak, Shelby White and Leon Levy Director of the Brooklyn Museum, and an essay on Robert Longo by Nancy Spector, former Deputy Director and Chief Curator, Brooklyn Museum.
In connection with the exhibition, Longo’s Untitled (Dividing Time) (2017), an artwork in the form of a flag, will fly on the flagpole outside the Museum, and at several other cultural institutions nationwide, through October 10. His black-and-white American flag alludes to the current divisive political climate. The project is part of Creative Time’s Pledges of Allegiance, a commission series originally conceived by Alix Browne and developed in collaboration with Cian Browne, Fabienne Stephan, and Opening Ceremony.