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Richard Prince
Holdings (20)
1 unique works on paper, 4 photographs, 2 paintings, 1 edition prints/proof, 7 books, 2 internet art, 1 drawing, 2

Wikipedia About Richard Prince

Richard Prince is an American painter and photographer. Prince began appropriating photographs in 1975. His image, Untitled (Cowboy), a “rephotograph” of a photograph taken originally by Sam Abell and appropriated from a cigarette advertisement, was the first “rephotograph” to raise more than $1 million at auction when it was sold at Christie’s New York in 2005. Starting in 1977, Prince photographed four photographs which previously appeared in the New York Times. This process of re-photographing continued into 1983, when his work Spiritual America featured Garry Gross’s photo of Brooke Shields at the age of ten, standing in a bathtub, as an allusion to precocious sexuality and to the Alfred Stieglitz photograph by the same name. His Jokes series (beginning 1986) concerns the sexual fantasies and sexual frustrations of middle-class America, using stand-up comedy and burlesque humor. After living in New York City for 25 years, Prince moved to upstate New York. His mini-museum, Second House, purchased by the Guggenheim Museum, was struck by lightning and burned down shortly after the museum purchased the House (which Richard had created for himself), having only stood for six years, from 2001 to 2007. Prince now lives and works in New York City. Full Wikipedia Article

essay Richard Prince, Walker Art Center Collections, 2005

A simple joke, pirated from the archived recesses of the Borscht Belt humorists of the 1950s, plays a pivotal role in the career of Richard Prince. It goes something like this: “I went to see a psychiatrist. He said, ‘Tell me everything.’ I did and now he’s doing my act.” Since the late 1970s, Prince has made his mark in the contemporary art world by stealing the acts of the producers of consumer culture, whether they reside in the fashionable photographic world of magazine advertising or the cultural lowlands of jokes and cartoons. Working across a wide range of media that includes photography, drawing, sculpture, and painting, he has developed a strategy of appropriating images in his work in order to produce his own director’s cut of the psychic landscape of desire and identification generated by the culture industry. In essence, Prince is a visual deejay who samples images rather than musical tracks, taking us on a trip into American advertising’s heart of darkness. In fact, he emerged on the American art scene in the late 1970s at roughly the same time that a number of now-legendary deejays in New York, such as Grand Master Flash, were laying the foundations for the mix-and-dub culture that would become hip-hop. It is this liberating power of sampling, now so prevalent as to be ubiquitous, that lies at the heart of Prince’s work.

Born in the Panama Canal Zone to American parents, Prince grew up in the vicinity of Boston and moved to New York in 1973. He took a job in the tear-sheet department at Time-Life, cutting articles out of magazines for the writers on staff. The remnants of these excisions—left on his desk like so much detritus—were magazine advertisements with glossy, overproduced, and anonymous photographs that heralded the good life of American consumer culture. It was here that Prince would experience his first breakthrough as an artist. As he contemplated these overwrought images of conspicuous wealth with their concomitant subliminal psycho-sexual dramas, he became interested in the ways in which their status differed from that of traditional art photography. Out of this experience was born Prince’s strategy of rephotography, a practice that would become more widely referred to in the late 1970s and 1980s as appropriation.1 This strategy allowed him to take an image of a fictional world of desire crafted for public consumption in a glossy magazine and return it to a realm in which the photograph itself is an object. He became a leading practitioner of a group of American artists loosely known as Picture Theorists, including Barbara Kruger, Sherrie Levine, and Cindy Sherman. This name was attributed to them in deference to the exhibition Pictures, curated by Douglas Crimp at Artists Space in New York in 1977, which included the work of a number of these artists (although not that of Prince).

Though not the only artist practicing this technique, Prince is generally acknowledged to be one of its primary progenitors. His first foray into this new media landscape was the four-part photographic work Untitled (living rooms), which he completed in 1977. The images were lifted directly from advertisements for high-end furniture found in the pages of the New York Times Magazine. Emptied of any extraneous denotative advertising language, the photographs radiate a strange ambivalence. Originally intended to invoke a longed-for world of luxury and leisure, they have become unmoored from the directives of Madison Avenue. Their ambiguity has launched them into a world where they might serve as sets for a vaguely familiar but not quite memorable sitcom or, better yet, an episode of the Twilight Zone. Instead of bringing us to a state of comforting narrative closure à la Rod Serling, though, Prince has set us adrift on a sea of endlessly proliferating signifying possibilities. Are they a critique or a celebration of consumer culture? Are these images even photographs in any traditional sense of the medium? These questions, paradoxically, are both generated by this work and held in a state of suspension.

Prince went on to use his technique of rephotography on other visual themes within the world of pop culture and advertising, shooting pictures of girls from biker magazines as well as male and female models from the pages of fashion publications. He would, however, become most identified with the figure of the cowboy, the subject of an ongoing untitled series of photographic prints that took its source images from the masculine world of American manifest destiny as seen through the mythic figure of the Marlboro man. Similarly emptied of any determining graphic content, Prince’s cowboys are not like John Wayne’s boldly innocent character in John Ford’s early western, Stagecoach (1939). They are much more akin to the dark antihero of Wayne’s character in Ford’s later film The Searchers (1956). These figures ride the range, wrangle stallions, and generally embody the rugged individualism of the epic foundation myths of the American frontier. Underlying their bravado, of course, is the nagging fact of their identification with the manipulative rhetoric of cigarette advertising. By isolating and reproducing these images in a systemic repetition, Prince empties them of their original content while making evident the ways in which they recirculate and reinforce this vision of American masculinity.

Another kind of American heroism would come into play as Prince added painting to his artistic repertory. In his series of car-hood reliefs and joke paintings, he took on two more aspects of America’s self-imaging of its male identity. In his hoods, the artist practiced another kind of larceny parallel to that of his rephotography by employing the strategy of the sculptural “readymade” inaugurated by Marcel Duchamp. Ordering actual factory-made replacement hoods for American muscle cars (Mustangs, Challengers, Chargers) from automotive magazines, Prince repainted them and hung them on the wall. Installed in this manner, they are at once paintings and anti-paintings that resonate between the poles of adolescent male fantasies of automotive speed and sexual power and the equally heroic delusions of modernist abstract painting. The hoods shared this last aspect with Prince’s monochromatic joke paintings, such as Was That a Girl (1989). On a uniformly antimodernist purple canvas, a line of silkscreened text reads: “I met my first girl, her name was Sally. Was that a girl, was that a girl. That’s what people kept asking.” Mimicking the formal strategy of Barnett Newman’s “zips” of paint, Prince’s joke—itself a self-reflexive repetition of misogynist male culture—takes on the heroic, masculine romanticism of the legacy of American Abstract Expressionism by turning the vertical zips of Newman’s monumental painting Vir Heroicus Sublimus (1951–1952) literally on their side into a Princely “vir antiheroicus ridiculous.” In the end, perhaps his joke should read: “Was that a painting, was that a painting.”

  1. As Prince has suggested, “They were like these authorless pictures, too good to be true, art-directed and over-determined and pretty much like film stills, psychologically hyped-up and having nothing to do with the way art pictures were traditionally ‘put’ together. I mean they were so off the map, so hard to look at, and rather than tear them out of the magazines and paste them up on a board, I thought why not rephotograph them with a camera and then put them in a real frame with a mat board around the picture just like a real photograph and call them mine. I mean ‘pirate’ them, ‘steal’ them, ‘sample’ them.” See Jeff Rian, “In the Picture: Jeff Rian in conversation with Richard Prince,” in Rosetta Brooks, Jeff Rian, and Luc Sante, Richard Prince (London: Phaidon Press, 2003), 12.

Fogle, Douglas. “Richard Prince.” In Bits & Pieces Put Together to Present a Semblance of a Whole: Walker Art Center Collections, edited by Joan Rothfuss and Elizabeth Carpenter. Minneapolis, MN: Walker Art Center, 2005.

© 2005 Walker Art Center


biography Richard Prince, Let’s Entertain: Life’s Guilty Pleasures Walker Art Center, 2000

Richard Prince started his career as a figure painter, but around 1975 he started to make collages using photographs and text. In 1977 he produced a series of four photographs of living rooms lifted from the New York Times. This act of rephotographing cast doubt on basic assumptions about authorship, the authenticity of photographic images, the ownership of public images, and the nature of invention. In the Jokes series, started in 1986, Prince chronicles America’s sexual fantasies and frustrated desires through one-liners, stand-up comedy, and burlesque-like jokes. Revealing the darker side of American life and the pathology of Middle America, his work exposes several false distinctions: the presumed dichotomies between the copy and the original, the normal and the uncanny, public and private, fact and fiction. Prince’s appropriated photograph Brooke Shields (Spiritual America) (1983) shows the ten-year-old actress standing in the bath, her androgynous child’s body contradicted by her sophisticated, womanly attitude. The title of the work alludes to Alfred Stieglitz’s photograph of the same name, which depicts the groin of a castrated horse. When this work was first shown in an exhibition organized by Prince himself, the image was at the center of a lawsuit between Shields’ mother and the original photographer. Prince’s controversial display of the photograph raises issues of voyeurism and commodification of images.

Richard Prince biography from Let’s Entertain: Life’s Guilty Pleasures, Walker Art Center, 2000.