Robert Longo (1953-)
Body of a Comic
Painted steel drums with motor, timer, and transparency in lightbox
Overall: 120 × 114 × 48 in. (304.8 × 289.6 × 121.9 cm)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Gift of Raymond J. Learsy, by exchange
Rights and Reproductions Information
© 1984 Robert Longo
In the early 1980s, Robert Longo made a series of sculptural wall works that he referred to as “Combines,” in a direct reference to the hybrids of the same name made by Robert Rauschenberg between 1954 and 1964. Like Rauschenberg’s works, which incorporate elements from painting and sculpture, Body of a Comic involves a combination of two- and three-dimensions. The lower section of the work comprises a large horizontal light-box containing a color photograph of a man’s hands playing a pair of bongo drums held between his thighs—an homage to the comedian Andy Kaufman. The light-box flickers on and off at random intervals, undermining our perception of the photograph as a stable, still image. In the work’s upper register, three cylindrical drums painted black revolve intermittently against each other like the wheels of a steamroller. Longo has described these cylinders as a kind of diaphragm breathing in and out, creating a composition in which the body is split into two parts—the visible, silent lower torso, and the symbolic, abstract upper body, whose sound evokes the action that is frozen in the photographic image below.