Untitled (Cowboy)

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  • Provenance

    Gagosian Gallery, New York
    New York, Phillips de Pury & Company, Contemporary Art Part I, November 8, 2010, lot 113
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    London, Serpentine Gallery, Richard Prince: Continuation, June 26 - September 7, 2008 (another example exhibited)

  • Catalogue Essay

    "I first started 'seeing' the Marlboro advertisement in 1980 while I was working at Time/Life magazine. 1980 was the first year they started using other models for the 'cowboy'.... I thought these new models were more generic and less identifiable and could make it seem like after the logo and copy were cropped out that the re-photographed image could be more my own. Every week I would 'claim one.'" Richard Prince

    The greatest artists possess the power to blur the line between reality and illusion. Richard Prince, aside from demonstrating this formidable skill on countless occasions during the past thirty years, has become somewhat of a mythmaker in American art by redefining the origins of our national heroes. Though the cowboy himself has come down to us in a variety of forms—from the prideful singing of Gene Autry to the peon of loneliness that is the symbol of the frontier—Prince has manipulated certainly his sexiest form, that of the Marlboro Man, into something much deeper: an exploration of contemporary masculinity. In Untitled (Cowboy), 1998-99, Prince visits the cowboy for the second time in his career, delivering us a cinematic vision of America’s greatest hero.

    First embarking upon his Cowboy series in the mid-1980s, Richard Prince set about his monumentally influential project of appropriation now known as the “rephotographs.” Subtracting any kind of branding or commercial advertising from his source material, Prince blew up his images in order to emphasize their individual aesthetic appeal independent from their original purposes of product marketing. In doing so, Prince has been recognized as one of the greatest innovators of the readymade since Duchamp himself, often occupying the same breath as Jeff Koons or Richard Pettibone. Yet Prince’s photographic approach had an effect upon the world of photography as well, as his work has come to influence an entire generation of advertising executives and freelance journalists:

    “It is now widely accepted that Richard Prince was slightly in advance of several other artists in his use of this radical method of appropriation known as re-photography, and that he played a significant role in the development of a new, oppositional type of photographic practice, critically described as postmodernist. He was part of a generation that…used photographic procedures to simultaneously redefine photography and art.” (L. Phillips, Richard Prince, New York, 1992, p. 28). The result has been a new presence of artistic practice in common methods of marketing—a higher standard for those intending to sell their product.

    It is no great wonder that Prince chose to return to the Cowboy, one of his most celebrated series, in the late 1990s. According to Prince himself, finding a central figure in his work was a way to live vicariously through his subjects: "Without him as an identifying factor, it was easier to present these pictures as something other than they were. I think that’s the way I felt at the time anyway. Other than I was.” (L. Phillips, Richard Prince, New York, 1992, p. 95). But while his work of the 1980s had a distinctly gritty feel due to its inferior technology blown up to unintended size, Prince’s Cowboys of the late 1990s are more streamlined in their pixels, more intimate in their declarations of manhood. Fascinatingly, this is due to two circumstances: the first are major advances in photographic technology, allowing for a finer appearance after the photograph is appropriated. The second is Prince’s own influence: Marlboro’s advertisements of the late 1990s are in some ways a direct response to Prince’s work of the 1980s. In turn, the present lot is less a simple appropriation and more of an appropriation of an appropriation. It is art imitating advertising, imitating art, imitating advertising, imitating life. Put simply, it is four degrees separated from reality, in a status that the French philosopher Baudrillard refers to as the hyperreal.

    Which is not to say that Prince’s protagonist has lost any of his trademark bravado or charisma. Prince’s massive ektacolor photograph, devoid of any branding, is a gorgeous study in solitude and masculinity. Taken at sunset, as the golden sunlight from the horizon illuminates the space beneath the barn’s roof, the picture is hyper-saturated in red and brown hues, cropping the top and bottom of the picture almost as if we were watching the scene play out on a widescreen. This serves to emphasize the cinematic effect of the picture; the luminous center is the locus of all the action. Prince chooses photographs that conjure our innate relationship to film and the clichés that populate motion pictures.

    Indeed, the main character in the photograph is perhaps the greatest of all American clichés. Alone at the right, with only lasso to keep him company, the lone Cowboy seems to relish his time alone. Clad in leather and flannel, he is the perfect embodiment of a timeless figure, one whose mediums of depiction may change but whose nature never wavers from its masculine center. Yet the character himself is rather impersonal, busying himself with his lasso as opposed to engaging with the observer; his ten-gallon hat obscures the better part of his expression, making it clear that he would rather be left to his own devices.

    Prince’s use of photographic appropriation raises the question of our relationship to his protagonist. Indeed, for Americans, there is an almost inherent connection to the cowboy as a state of being: “The image of the cowboy is so familiar in American iconology that it has become almost invisible through its normality. And yet the cowboy is also the most sacred and masklike of cultural figures. In both a geographical and cultural sense, a cowboy is an image of endurance itself, a stereotypical symbol of American cinema. He is simultaneously the wanderer and the mythological symbol of social mobility. Even today, the image of the cowboy has not lost its luster.” (Rosetta Brooks, ‘Spiritual America’, in Lisa Phillips, ed., Richard Prince, New York, 1992, p. 95). Does the fact that he originally coalesced in the form of a tobacco advertisement make the image any less relatable? Can we still contemplate the aesthetics of a photograph and its spiritual center if we know that its original purpose was to sell a product?

    Prince assures us of two things: the first is that, no matter the original intent of the photograph, Prince has redefined it into an aesthetic object on his own terms. Secondly, no amount of corporate manipulation can ever bastardize an ingrained cultural symbol this pure.

  • Artist Bio

    Richard Prince

    American • 1947

    For more than three decades, Prince's universally celebrated practice has pursued the subversive strategy of appropriating commonplace imagery and themes – such as photographs of quintessential Western cowboys and "biker chicks," the front covers of nurse romance novellas, and jokes and cartoons – to deconstruct singular notions of authorship, authenticity and identity.

    Starting his career as a member of the Pictures Generation in the 1970s alongside such contemporaries as Cindy Sherman, Robert Longo and Sherrie Levine, Prince is widely acknowledged as having expanded the accepted parameters of art-making with his so-called "re-photography" technique – a revolutionary appropriation strategy of photographing pre-existing images from magazine ads and presenting them as his own. Prince's practice of appropriating familiar subject matter exposes the inner mechanics of desire and power pervading the media and our cultural consciousness at large, particularly as they relate to identity and gender constructs.

    View More Works

11

Untitled (Cowboy)

1998-99
c-print
59 1/2 x 83 1/2 in. (150.8 x 212.1 cm)
Signed "Richard Prince" on a label affixed to the reverse. This work is number 2 from an edition of 2 plus 1 artist's proof.

Estimate
$1,000,000 - 1,500,000 

sold for $1,805,000

Contact Specialist
Amanda Stoffel
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+ 1 212 940 1261

Contemporary Art Evening

New York Auction 13 November 2014 7pm