Robert Longo Talks to Mary Haus. ('80S Then)
MARY HAUS: You were involved in both the Hallwalls gallery in Buffalo and the "Pictures" show at Artists Space in New York in 1977--both of which many people feel opened the way for the '80s.
ROBERT LONGO: I ended up in Buffalo in the mid-'70s [at the State University College of New York, as a fine arts major]. I had decided I wanted to be an artist after failing at everything else. I had just returned from Europe, studying art history. The college wasn't much, but I was fortunate to meet up with some interesting people and a few teachers, and the fuse was lit.
Around that time I met Cindy [Sherman], and we started living together. I had just rented my first studio in an old ice factory. There I met Charlie Clough, an artist who was making really interesting work and who generously turned me on to the current contemporary art. He and I started Hallwalls, so called because the gallery space was a hallway between our studios. I managed to get Robert Irwin to come up--someone said the work I was doing at the time looked like his, so I wrote him a letter saying I was interested in his work, and to my surprise he flew up to Buffalo, on his own money, and came and talked to us. And Hallwalls started.
Charlie and I ran the place. The people we were reading about in art magazines and in art books came to life by coming up to Hallwalls, doing installations, exhibitions, giving talks, and hanging out with us: Serra, Acconci, Borofsky (who got snowed-in there for a week and a half), Judy Pfaff, Hannah Wilke, Nauman, to name a few. Sol LeWitt even gave us a wall drawing to do. We did incredible, exciting things. For research we would hitchhike to New York for a day or a weekend, do the galleries, and visit artists. This was 1975-77.
About that time Helene Winer was going around with Douglas Crimp, looking at artists for the "Pictures" show. They saw my work in the exhibition "In Western New York"  at the Albright-Knox and wanted to include me. Simultaneously Cindy got an NEA grant for three thousand dollars. We put these two things together (and my car was working) and decided to move to New York.
MH: Did you know the work of the other people in the show?
RL: The last show I curated at Hallwalls ["Resemblance," 1977] had Jack Goldstein, Troy Brauntuch, David Salle, Matt Mullican, and Paul McMahon. I met them all when they came to Buffalo, I realized I was meeting my generation--except these were real artists, and they were living in New York, in the real arena. I saw connections in what they were doing to what I was doing in isolation in Buffalo. It was a strange connection, Hallwalls and CalArts. They were articulate and very supportive and their work moved me. I thought, "This is a group of artists that is about to take over the world," or at least the art world. They later became the crew we ran with once we were in New York.
MH: Did "Pictures" mark the start of some kind of success for you?
RL: When the show happened we thought, "Wow, this is the beginning of it." And then nothing happened. I had to get a job driving a taxi. I also worked at the Kitchen as a temporary curator. There I managed to plug my friends--David, Jack, Troy, Cindy--into the schedule of exhibitions.
"Pictures" was significant because what Crimp was able to articulate made sense to me; it helped me. I was raised on movies, television, and Life magazine. I wasn't interested in images that were based on reality; my concerns were more for representations of representations. I was interested in what art could be, not what art was.
MH: Was there any connection between your work and Cindy's early on?
RL: We lived together for some time, in Buffalo and New York. We shared a lot of things. We went to Godard films together, CBGB's together. We helped each other--she was one of the first models for my early "Men in the Cities" drawings, and I took some photos of her for her "Film Stills" series. …