ROBERT LONGO I checked out your work online. So you’re into abstract paintings? Sometimes I’m jealous of messy shit.
ROSS SIMONINI What do you mean by “the messy shit?”
RL I have incredible respect for Abstract Expressionism, but I also have great reservations about it. I’m really jealous of the freedom one has in making abstract work. But I also find that a lot of current abstract work looks like it belongs in Ikea. I’ve always had this fantasy that when I was 70 years old, I’d be making big abstract paintings. However, at this point, I still resist getting too loose. It seems too obvious.
I grew up in the generation in the early 1980s that was split between the so-called Pictures Generation and the Neo-Expressionists. The two groups were like street gangs, very adversarial. At the time, I liked some of the Germans, like Richter, Polke and Kiefer, but other Neo-Expressionist work, like that of Schnabel and Clemente, not so much. Neo-Expressionism seemed to be retro; it was about what art was. I was interested in what art could be.
RS The way you talk about that period—it’s as if everyone’s motivations were clear. It seems harder to speak that way about art now, when there’s so much work, and it’s all so diffuse.
RL Right. My generation came up around 1976 and quickly replaced the previous one, the Conceptual artists. It’s interesting to see how each new generation takes as its content the formal aspects of the previous one. When you look at Conceptual Art, its form was primarily photography. It had its content—the event—but its formal elements became my generation’s content. For the most part, Conceptual art’s form was photographic documentation, and that was really fucking boring. My generation was interested in the notion of pictures of pictures—that idea exploded and became a much bigger thing. At that time, generations replaced generations. Subsequently, it’s become a big blur—there are just so many more artists now, all competing. When I moved to New York, making money from my art wasn’t on the menu. Being an artist was more of a mission than it was a career move.