Robert Longo

Sword of the Pig


Not on display

Robert Longo born 1953
Painted wood and screenprint on aluminium
Object: 2480 × 5880 × 510 mm
Presented by the Patrons of New Art through the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1983

Display caption

This work directly criticises the macho attitude prevalent in the early 1980s. It is shaped like a sword, an obvious symbol of male aggression. 'Pig' has been used by feminists to describe a man with an aggressive sense of maleness; 'pork sword' is also slang for penis. The handle of the sword refers to the phallic shapes of a skyscraper and church steeple. The figure was drawn from several pictures of male body builders. It is therefore a composite body distorted by muscles, which parodies the macho man image. The right hand panel shows disused nuclear missile silos. They are marked INERT, and Longo thus implies that the macho mentality, like the silos, is impotent.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

Robert Longo born 1953

T03782 Sword of the Pig 1983

Left section: paint on melamine laminate on wood relief 2090 x 2210 x 510 (82 3/8 x 87 1/8 x 20 1/8); centre section: charcoal and acrylic on paper 2480 x 1260 (97 3/4 x 49 1/8); right section: silkscreen on aluminium 1235 x 2435 (48 5/8 x 96 1/2); overall size 2480 x 5880 x 510 (97 3/4 x 231 5/8 x 20 1/8
Not inscribed
Presented by the Patrons of New Art through the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1983
Prov: Purchased from Metro Pictures, New York by the Patrons of New Art 1983
Exh: Metro Pictures, New York, May-June 1983 (no cat.); New Art at the Tate Gallery, Tate Gallery, Sept.-Oct. 1983 (no number, repr. in col.)
Lit: Robert Longo, Talking about the Sword of the Pig, Patrons of New Art, 1983, repr.; Tate Gallery Report 1982-4, 1984, p.65 repr.; Maurice Berger, ‘The Dynamics of Power: An Interview with Robert Longo', Arts Magazine, vol.59, Jan. 1985, pp.88-9 repr.; Carter Ratcliff, Robert Longo, Munich 1985, pp.23-5, pl.20 (col.); Robert Longo: Studies and Prints, exh. cat., Norman MacKenzie Art Gallery, Regina, 1986 [p.1]

T03782 consists of three sections which are joined together in a configuration resembling a sword within a scabbard. The work is in a horizontal format. The left section is black and suggestive of a hilt and a church tower, the central section portrays a nude torso of a body builder, over which is imposed a sheet of yellow perspex, and the right section depicts abandoned missile silos suffused in a red glow. The word ‘Pig' is American feminist jargon used to denote a man with a distinctly aggressive sense of his maleness. According to Carter Ratcliff, the juxtaposition of the body builder with the disused missile silos, which have phallic conotations, denotes impotence. ‘"Sword of the Pig" displays the individual as a grotesque object, a laboriously devised artifact of dubious power. Maleness in this form finds its emblems (steeple and missile) in institutions (church and the military) no less dubious'. In 1983 Longo stated in an interview with Carter Ratcliff that his ‘work is very politically charged without addressing the issues of politics directly. I'm taking on a lot of contemporary issues. One of the great things about being American is that you don't have to be delicate about history and pop imagery. You can smash them together and see what happens'.

In the interview with Richard Francis, published by the Patrons of New Art, Longo described the genesis of the piece and the stages through which it went in its making. Beginning with the left panel Longo described the work as follows:

The main aim of this piece was basically to make something that was really masculine like a rocket or sword. I started working with an architect two months before I began this work and asked him questions about certain buildings, because in my earlier work, reliefs of buildings had a great deal to do with photographic distortions and what started happening was I stopped working from photographs and started working from architectural drawings. I asked him to bring me architectural plans of churches. Most of them looked to me like a guy lying on his back with an erection. So I started drawing all the different views of this church and from these I made clay models. What I came up with was an idea of the steeple squished back down on itself, although I also wanted to allude to other types of buildings such as skyscrapers. This piece is so much about authority and about how much I hate authority, and yet how I've become the authority ...

From the clay models we made a plaster cast and then we gave it to an architect to re-draw so that we would have architectural plans of it. And then it was made up in wood and steel and covered in formica. Finally it's spray-painted with a sort of auto-primer which has metal flake in it so that it has a finish like a car, its steel turning to stone ...

The middle part, the torso, was really inspired by Soutine's ‘Side of Beef'. This figure, and in fact the whole work, was a response to being a man in this rebirth of neo-machoism in the culture now. It seemed that everything that women have attained in the last ten to fifteen years was being taken away and I just wanted to make a piece that was about being of that ‘male macho mentality' but also realizing its demise. It seemed like I was part of the machinery that was crushing certain achievements. I hate hero shit. It seemed important to deal with something that I really enjoy working with, which is just a monstrous ego presented in pictures, but at the same time declare the fact that I'm aware of its seduction and its limitations. I like toy soldiers and I like war movies, barbarians and swords and all that, but I also know the consequences of it ...

The idea was to make this really exposed slab of meat. The figure itself came from three different body builders. The top part, down to the rib cage, comes from a forty-something year old New York cop, who's also a body builder. Then from the waist to the dick is another guy and the legs are from a Lebanese guy, who used to work out in the Holiday Inn in Beirut until it blew up ...

For the stomach I took pictures of the guy myself. The legs come from a publicity shot. I wanted a body that was really distorted and after looking in all the muscle magazines I found certain really exaggerated things that I liked. The older man's muscles, in the top part, have started to come apart into strands which has a ripping feeling. We drew it in black and white and then painted the background blue. Then we put it underneath a yellow piece of plexi-glass. That's how the blue turns to green.

I wanted the yellow to be a little sickly, about to rot ...

I knew exactly which poses I wanted. For this I wanted a flayed piece of meat, I wanted a really X-shape feeling. X is more brutal than a cross, more like a piece of beef, without the arms and legs. I knew exactly the pose I wanted because I had drawn it hundreds of times. I wanted really to produce a gut feeling, ugly, fleshy.

When we had drawn the top and bottom parts [of the body] we had to get the middle part right, and try and get the dick in the right place. It was really funny because we had little paper aprons with sketched different sized dicks that could be taped on to the paper. For one of them my assistant kept saying, ‘This is the right size', and when we turned on the lights and projected it, it looked as though the guy's penis had grown out of the bottom of the rib cage, and gone down to his knees ...

I've never worked from anything that's alive. We projected each part to its full size on to the paper on the wall and drew on the basic line drawings in the dark. The technique that's worked out with the paper, charcoal and graphite, is that they repel each other and they create the grain quality. The graphite is rubbed into the paper. It's almost sculpted, and then on top of that the highlights have to be built up with the charcoal, to bring up the definitions. It's really pretty simple and physical. The interesting thing about the figure in all my work is that it's not based on reality. What I mean is, it's based on lots of realities but it could never exist in reality ...

[The choice of frame] was a simple experiment. All the early drawings were framed in that big way but with this it had to be different, because I wanted the metal plate of the right panel thicker so that the metal sticks into it like a sword blade into its hilt. The metal plate is like a broken sword and the image in red is like blood. The metal was really important because it had to be three quarters of an inch thick and the edge was especially important, there couldn't be any nicks in it, because when we constructed it to hang on the wall it was set off from the wall by about three inches, so the sword literally floats, you can feel the blade ...

The image [for the right hand panel] came from an image I'd seen several times in the newspapers. I was curious about all these abandoned missile silos in the mid-west. They looked like a cross between Egyptian, Roman and Greek ruins and Michael Heizer, the notion ‘Classically Modern'. The image also had to do with the fact that it was really phallic, with these columns sticking up. But it was also just a really peculiar landscape. And the fact that the ‘inert' was on the same level as the dick and the church, meant that I had established some kind of middle ground in the piece. I wanted a very haunting compelling image ...

I just took the photo out of ‘Time' magazine and re-photographed it and made a slide. Then we made a big silk-screen and screened it onto the metal. It's important for the piece to be able to go back to its small scale, almost like a magazine lay-out. At the same time, when it's seen in its physical - it's an event. All my work at this period seems to do with the fact of it operating in a small sense, very much like journalisic imagery and lay-out. But when it appears in a reality its very much like the difference of seeing, for example, the picture of Beirut being blown up [in’Now Everybody (for R.W.Fassbinder)' 1982-3, Ludwig Collection, Aachen, repr. Ratcliff 1985, pl.10 in col.] and actually going to Beirut. It's the event of the site versus the reproduced image.

Referring to the choice of title for this work Longo stated:

I like to see all the titles as having a deadline actuality, or poetics that are familiar...’Sword of the Pig' just seemed the easiest way of defining the fact that this is a sword and it's a sword of a ‘Macho Pig World'. But at the same time it makes it sould like the title of a movie, ‘Kill the Infidel', ‘Enter the Dragon' etc.

Longo stated that ‘Sword of the Pig' is one of three pieces in a series, and represents the ‘male' piece. One of the other two works is ‘Ornamental Love' 1983 (collection Janet Green, repr. Ratcliff 1985, pl. 22 in col.) which is the ‘female' piece. At the time of recording the interview with Richard Francis the third piece had not been made. Longo stated that it may not look like the other two pieces:

The influences in the work come from images in our culture, but that doesn't exclude art history, nightmares or doodles while I'm on the telephone. The top piece will be hands playing the piano, which is a cast lead relief. And then in the middle there's a view from the city above, so that it is a crystal construction. And the bottom panel is a fresco of either a woman weight-lifter or two people fucking. It will be upright, like a totem. About 13 feet tall.

In taped answers dated 26 May 1988 to questions posed by the compiler, Longo stated that the third piece was ‘V' 1983-4 (private collection, repr. Ratcliff 1985, pl.26 in col.), which depicts a female body builder seen from the rear. Longo describes her as ‘like a butterfly that's been pinned to the wall'. Out of her back comes a ‘building relief ... that looks like 34th Street, an aerial view looking down at the street, or something like that'. Thus ‘V' shares with ‘Sword of the Pig' references to body building and architecture. While ‘Sword of the Pig' and ‘Ornamental Love' are horizontal works, ‘V' is vertical.

According to the artist, the colours of T03782 are intended as follows: red signifies blood, yellow is ‘ill looking' and ‘metal flake blue is like something that belongs to a car, a real fancy piece of furniture'.

Two preparatory sketches for ‘Sword of the Pig' are in the Archive of the Tate Gallery (repr. Talking about Sword of the Pig, pp.3 and 4). One consists of three separate configurations as follows: the overall concept of the work; a basic ground plan of a church with an upright cross reminiscent of a man lying down with an erect penis; a cross in the form of an X. The latter two configurations are referred to in the extracts quoted above. The other drawing is a final study for ‘Sword in the Pig'.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.526-8

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