Robert Longo, Olivier Zahm on Diairies

Published February 14, 2012

ABOVE: ROBERT LONGO (LEFT) AND OLIVIER ZAHM. PHOTO COURTESY OF BLK DNM

“Basquiat showed up at a party at my house with [performance artist/drug dealer] Rockets Redglare and Rockets had a gun on him,” recalled Robert Longo. “I asked Rockets to leave the party. I said to Jean-Michel, ‘Either he has to go or you both have to go.’ It was intense. Rockets left.” What Longo didn’t need to spell out was the widespread belief among his friends that it was actually Rockets Redglare who killed Nancy Spungen at the Chelsea Hotel in 1978—not Sid Vicious.

We were chatting about the ’80s art world with Longo at the BLK DNM/Purple party in Soho on Saturday. We had tossed out some names and asked for his favorite memories.

On Julian Schnabel: “An old warrior. Great film director, for sure, and he’s made some great paintings. We still see each other every now and then. In the beginning, we were somewhat competitive. I think now it’s kind of warmer. We’ve mellowed.”

On ex-girlfriend Cindy Sherman: “We still have the same group of friends; I’m real close to Cindy. We lived together in Buffalo, started Hallwalls, and then moved to New York. We were together for five or six years. When she used to get dressed up [for her self-portraits], it was really quite hideous. She’d come up to me and say, ‘give me a kiss’ and it was like, a weird transvestite. I remember there was one photo were she kind of looks like Brigitte Bardot putting books on a shelf and she looks really hot and sexy. But in actuality it was horrible!”

“A lot of young artists come up to me and say, ‘God, it must have been so cool back then. And it was. But at the same time, there were some really hard times.” Longo said that he feels fortunate to have survived. “If you’re lucky enough to make money as an artist, it’s a privilege. I’m an old guy now in the art world. I’m shell shocked, I’ve been beaten up and dragged through the street. But I’m still here. It’s a lot easier to die young, that’s for sure.”

Longo said he is currently working on an informal show upstairs at Metro Pictures, with drawings of four tiger heads which resemble abstract paintings, before preparing a major installation for  Capitain Petzel Gallery in Berlin, opening April 27. “The building has a lot of glass and [the piece] will be like a huge decal. There will be a huge American flag that you can see from the street, which is Karl-Marx-Allee, where there used to be armored tanks.”

Longo mentioned that his wife, actress Barbara Sukowa, is currently a juror for the Berlin Film Festival. We wondered if he had ever considered making another film. Longo directed several music videos (including New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle” and R.E.M.’s “The One I Love”) and a short film, Arena Brains, before directing Keanu Reeves in Johnny Mnemonic in 1995. “Maybe. As a director, it’s really difficult, because you spend all this time on it and then you end up with this little plastic box [DVD case]. I like to be in control as an artist. But when people give you money, they think they can tell you what to do.”

Longo signed several posters of his 2011 photograph, Dark Sky, at the BLK DNM party as part of the “Purple Fashion Magazine in 3D” exhibit, curated by Purple‘s editor Olivier Zahm, and celebrating the one year anniversary of the Lafayette Street boutique, which is owned by Johan Lindeberg.

The Purple exhibit consists primarily of Zahm’s photographs of celebrities such as Chloë Sevigny, Lindsay Lohan, Karl Lagerfeld, and nudes, as well as several Olaf Breuning drawings and posters of Longo’s Dark Night and Terry Richardson’s photo of pink-haired model Charlotte Free, with additional works by by David Salle, Aaron Young, Max Snow, and George Herms. A b&w short film featuring Slutever.com blogger Karley Sciortino and former model May Anderson was projected continuously on the rear wall of the store. Longo, Breuning, and Slutever have all been featured in Purple.

We asked Zahm how he selected works for the exhibit. “They’re people I like,” he said. “Terry is a professional fashion photographer; I’m just making a diary of my life. It’s people I’m working with, I’m sharing time with them and I get to know them in a more personal way. I approach doing interviews in a very personal way; for me it’s sharing a moment and an experience of art with a person.”

Zahm, who lives in Paris and New York, studied philosophy and began his career as an art critic. “I curated art shows and then I opened a magazine,” he said. Zahm recently created a supplement to Purple about Olaf Breuning. We asked about his special interest in Breuning. “I know him a long time and I like his ironic but also joyful approach to art, which to me is a positive way of approaching the times we’re living in,” he said.

Zahm decided to collaborate with BLK DNM because “It’s a brand for people like us, like me. I like how Johan approaches fashion, in a very easy and cool way. It’s an interesting new brand and he’s a friend. And we share a similar nostalgia for 1968, the Revolution.”

We had two final questions for Zahm: what is your overall vision for Purple?

“Freedom,” he said.

And in what direction do you want to take Purple in the future; what do you want to explore?

“Revolution,” he replied.