Update: Untitled V, from Men in the Cities sold for £15,000, or about $21,000.
What you see: Untitled V, from Men in the Cities, a 1990 lithograph by Robert Longo. It’s number 35 of a run of 48. Phillips estimates it at £6,000 to £8,000 ($8,100 to $10,800).
Who is Robert Longo? He’s an American artist, born in Brooklyn. He came to prominence in the 1980s with his Men in the Cities series, which depict men and women in business attire in dynamic poses. To create the source photographs, Longo invited several friends to come to the roof of his apartment building and sometimes threw objects at them to get the results he sought. Longo initially released Men in the Cities as charcoal and graphite drawings and later released them as photographs, prints, and sculptures. He is 65.
This lithograph dates to 1990. Is it from the first series of prints from Men in the Cities? Nope. Robert Kennan, head of editions, Europe, for Phillips, found prints from the series that have eleven different dates, created between 1980 and 2002.
What does “Untitled V” mean? “It’s the fifth in the series,” Kennan says. “Sometimes there’s a name–Eric or Joanna or Meryl–but the ones printed in 1990 are all untitled.”
Longo has released many prints of Men in the Cities images. What do collectors tend to prefer? “It’s really the impact of the image and if it works well,” he says. “Collectors like a strong silhouette. They don’t necessarily prefer males or females. It’s more about the composition. The man in the suit may resonate [by evoking] a Bryan Ferry or David Bowie type of figure.”
Cindy Sherman and Larry Gagosian are among the friends who posed for Longo in the late 1970s for Men in the Cities. They went on to become art-world stars. Do we know who the Untitled V model is? “His name is Eric Barsness. He was a dancer,” he says. “Seeing the face is important, if the model is known. You can identify them. But so many Men in the Cities images are heads thrown back at unusual angles. It can be tough to distinguish them.”
The top three most-expensive Men in the Cities prints at auction sold at Phillips. Do you make a point of specializing in them? “We’re always keen to include them in the sales and we do well with them, whether it’s Men in the Cities or more recent prints. The more recent prints have tailed off slightly. The 1980s prints are holding their own more than the works from the 2000s.”
What makes Untitled V such a powerful image? “That male figure is very striking. It is immediate. Has he just been shot? Is he dancing? There’s something wonderfully ambiguous about them, the frozen pose. They’re eye-catching, intriguing images,” he says. “And I grew up in the 1980s. Men in the Cities is very redolent of the period. It captures something.”
Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Phillips.
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