Walker Art Center

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Trailer Made

By Philippe Vergne

The word “picnic” comes—though nothing is cast in bronze—from the French verb piquer (“pick” or “peck”) is associated with the rhyming nique (things of little importance). Richard Prince’s latest work, Untitled (Upstate), which made its premiere at the Walker, picks on and transcends things of little importance that populate the world. A full-sized basketball hoop and pole pierce the center of a beat-up old wooden picnic table—the whole of it cast in bronze—defying both the function of the table and the ambition of the hoop. This work is a lure. We remember seeing these objects somewhere, on the side of the road, in the junkyard, in the dreamy picture of bucolic togetherness. In reality, nobody saw it short of Prince, who executed this disjunctive “dejeuner sur l’herbe.”

Untitled (Upstate) is also a short cut, a montage. Prince, the precursor of appropriation art, in this instance took nothing. He created. It is the American vernacular edited to its common denominator; it could have been one of Brassai’s “involuntary sculptures” except that nothing here is involuntary. It is the three-dimensional photograph of a sculpture that never was—an image as a sculpture, a picture of a culture. Echoing Les chants de Maldoror, Untitled (Upstate) is the Hollywood-style remake of the fortuitous “encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissection table.” It is a bronzed monument to a modest aesthetic. It is Lautréamont in a trailer park. It celebrates, with melancholy, what is still standing, a minor goal, a bruised ambition. It is spiritual America up for grabs.

—Philippe Verge, deputy director and chief curator

Installation view of Richard Prince’s Untitled (Upstate) (2007) in the exhibition Richard Prince: Spiritual America

Photo: Gene Pittman