Untitled (cowboys)

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  • Provenance

    Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York

  • Exhibited

    New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Richard Prince, 1 May–12 July 1992, then travelled to Düsseldorf, Kunstverein (4 December 1992–20 January 1993), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (29 April–25 July 1993), Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen (3 October–27 November 1993) (variant)
    Basel, Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Richard Prince: Photographs, 8 December 2001–24 February 2002 (variant)

  • Literature

    L. Phillips, Richard Prince, New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, 1992, pp. 189 and 99 (illustrated)
    Richard Prince: Photographs, exh. cat., Zurich: Museum für Gegenwartskunst Basel, 2002, p.74 (illustrated)
    B. Mendes Bürgi, B. Ruf, eds., Richard Prince: Photographs, Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz, 2002, p. 74 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    “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)

    Conceived in the early 1980s, Richard Prince’s Cowboy series epitomizes the artist’s celebrated approach to the appropriation of images, an act which has deeply affected the parameters of art-making. Taking visual material from popular culture, erasing the text and logos, rephotographing, and re-presenting, Prince challenges the notions of originality and authorship. Prince adopts Duchamp’s idea of the readymade but develops it further with his use of copyrighted photographs, rather than objects that hold no such restrictions. At the beginning of the 20th century, curators, photographers and artists were attempting to position photography as an art form in its own right, distancing it from its more commercial associations. However, by the late 1970s and early 1980s, photography had emerged as the defining mode of postmodernist art, employed by artists such as Prince to record that which copied or stimulated pre-existing ideas.

    Prince chose to use contrived images of popular culture in his works in order to emphasize the manner in which the act of appropriation transforms the commonplace into the extraordinary. By re-photographing and re-presenting a mundane, mass produced image, it no longer has a short shelf-life, but a defining status. We are brought closer to the fundamental fiction of the image, making it more real and thus destabilizing our sense of reality. Prince has taken an image that apparently depicts the ‘real’ world, but in fact depicts what we desire reality to be. From the incongruity between the commonness of the subject and the glorifying result of representation, emerges a sense of the uncanny.

    The Cowboy series appropriated images directly from the glossy, highaesthetic Marlboro cigarette advertisements. In the mid-1950s, faced with the first reports that linked smoking and lung cancer, tobacco company Phillip Morris sought to find a method to popularize his only filtered brand, Marlboro, and in particular widen its appeal to the male audience. A campaign followed featuring a range of male stereotypes, of which the cowboy was the most popular. By the mid 1960s, so synonymous with the brand, Morris was able to drop all references to cigarettes in his ads. What remained were images of cowboys, wearing hats and surrounded by their natural habitat of the American ranches and hills, emblazoned with the words, “Come to Marlboro Country”.

    A role model and sex symbol taken straight from the sets of the Westerns, the cowboy stands as the paradigm of the American spirit of individualism and free will. Hollywood raised the status of the cowboy from a poor, nomadic labourer to the lonesome hero, the alpha male. Even Ronald Reagan, once a Hollywood actor, played the role of cowboy, appealing to a romanticized notion of masculine authority. Prince picked images of cowboys, for the same reasons he chose nurses and girls on the backs of motorcycles (for his Girlfriend series), because these are the images of America and the American Dream. These generic images, with the cowboy’s face often hidden by shadow, are specifically picked by the advertisers and Prince because they allow the consumer and viewer to project themselves onto the figure. Prince, by appropriating these types of images, highlights their commercialism and alludes to the fictitious nature of the desire for the American Dream.

  • 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.

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Untitled (cowboys)

Ektacolor photograph
Image: 68.6 x 101.6 cm (27 x 40 in)
Sheet: 73 x 101.6 cm (28 3/4 x 40 in)

Signed, dated and numbered ‘Prince 1986 ap’ lower right margin in pen. This work is an artist’s proof from an edition of 2 plus 1 artist’s proof.

£500,000 - 700,000 

sold for £601,250

Contemporary Art Evening

28 June 2012