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Robert Longo

Joe Test / Russian

Artist

Robert Longo
Born in Brooklyn in 1953

Title

Joe Test / Russian

Date

2004

Materials

Charcoal

Dimensions

100.4 x 125.4 cm

Credits

Purchase, the Museum Campaign 1988-1993 Fund, inv. 2005.41

Collection

Graphic Arts

The image that Longo reproduces in this charcoal work comes from the military archives of the former USSR and shows the mushroom cloud produced by the Soviet army’s first atomic bomb test on August 29, 1949, during the early years of the Cold War. Dubbed “First Lightning” by its designers, the Americans nicknamed the blast “Joe.” Through both its subject matter and treatment, in which the residue of burnt wood that is charcoal gives form to the cloud of atomic ash, here Longo creates a work providing much matter for contemplation. The title of the series to which it belongs, “The Sickness of Reason,” not only places Longo as the heir to a philosophy, promulgated by Freud and Michel Foucault, that saw reason as the sublimated and destructive expression of a pathology, but also the famous phrase by Goya, taken from one of the plates in his series “Los Caprichos” [The Caprices]: “The sleep of reason produces monsters.”

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