Art as Ammo

The artist Robert Longo’s “Death Star” will debut at Art Basel in June, with a percentage of the sale going to the nonprofit Everytown for Gun Safety.
Robert Longo's "Death Star," was created from approximately 40,000 inert bullets.
CUL_Art_Longo_01 Source: Courtesy of Robert Longo/Metro Pictures/Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac

In 1970, Robert Longo was a senior at Plainview High School on New York’s Long Island—a football star with long hair who smoked pot. “I wasn’t good in school, and I was worried about getting drafted and going to Vietnam,” he says. “I’d seen guys older than me come back totally scrambled.”

On May 4 of that year, the Ohio National Guard shot and killed four students during an anti-war demonstration at Kent State University. One of them, Jeffrey Miller, had graduated from Plainview a few years earlier. In John Filo’s now iconic Pulitzer Prize–winning photo, Miller is the 20-year-old man lying face down on the pavement as a young woman crouches over him—the two forever a symbol of the country’s social unrest.

Longo would go on to become one of America’s most important contemporary artists, a member of the groundbreaking Pictures Generation (1974 to 1984); along with Cindy Sherman, Richard Prince and Barbara Kruger (among others), Longo rejected minimalism and conceptualism, often using appropriated images inspired by newspapers, advertisements, film and television. But Filo’s photo of Miller, a catalyst for the artist's social activism, “is one of those images

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