2008 Robert Longo Born: New York, New York 1953 charcoal on paper 96 x 70 in. (243.8 x 177.8 cm) Smithsonian American Art Museum Museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment © 2008, Robert Longo and Metro Pictures 2009.1 Not currently on view
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The atomic bomb is one of the most complicated and emotionally charged subjects of the twentieth century. The development of atomic technology in the early 1940s propelled countries around the globe to acquire nuclear power, and launched a debate about its use that persists today. Robert Longo's drawings of atomic and hydrogen blasts from the Cold War era acknowledge both the complexity and relevance of this issue for contemporary audiences. The series was inspired by an encounter with his children, in which they mistook an image of an atomic blast for a weather phenomenon.
Untitled (Hercules) combines stunning visual presence and awe-inspiring physical power—themes that have engaged the artist throughout his career. The image is based on an archival photograph of the first Chinese hydrogen bomb test performed June 17, 1967. Longo's elegant depiction of the looming mushroom cloud and the reality of what it signifies creates an elemental tension with this highly accomplished drawing. Meticulously drawn in black charcoal on white paper, and presented on a cinematic scale, Untitled (Hercules) presents an image of historical and contemporary significance.
Robert Longo's mushroom cloud illustrates the destructive potential of atomic energy on a cinematic scale. Behind the bright cloud is an apocalyptic landscape in which nothing survives the devastating effects of the blast. Longo based this charcoal drawing on an archival photograph of the first Chinese hydrogen bomb test on June 17, 1967. The powerful image alludes to the international debate over the use of nuclear weapons and technology, which began in the 1940s and persists today.
Object - weapon - nuclear bomb