Richard Prince - Contemporary Art Part I New York Thursday, May 12, 2011 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Gagosian Gallery, London

  • Exhibited

    London, Gagosian Gallery, Crash (Homage to JG Ballard), February 11 – April 1, 2010

  • Catalogue Essay

    A Nurse’s Job is to Pamper and Please Men…She came into their homes, a private nurse who was well paid to soothe the nerves of rich men, to quiet the fears of lonely women, but Kay Taylor was too beautiful, too inflammable herself, to soothe any man, rich or poor. Wrecked bodies and tortured hearts need healing, and a private nurse is supposed to help them. But Kay, it so happened, had a love-hungry heart of her own. A nurse’s job is to pamper her patients, especially the men, but Kay needed
    pampering herself, and as a private nurse she was able to find it, with the husband of one patient, the sweetheart of another…

    (Norman Bligh, Wayward Nurse, 1953)

    Wayward. Defined as following one’s own capricious, wanton, or depraved inclinations: ungovernable (Merriam Webster).

    The Nurse. Historically typecast as a paragon of goodness, a benevolent caregiver and healer. However the 20th century has played with that role and eroticized it, casting her as a different character: a lustful and naughty object of sexual desire. It is this striking tension between the good and the wicked that Richard Prince so astutely captures in his Nurse series and what makes these works such intriguing and sought after paintings.

    Richard Prince. The name alone conjures up a whirlwind of images, all indelibly cemented in the culture of American kitsch and mass media. One cannot hear his name without picturing his most recognizable icons: Cowboys, Jokes, Nurses. The visual iconography of Prince’s work over the last thirty years spans the gamut of the American vernacular from the opulent to the seedy. His early photographic representations of lavish luxury items remarked on consumerism while those of almost-naked women splayed across their boyfriends’ motorcycles addressed overt sexuality and gender roles. From his early unadulterated snapshots of cigarette ads to his latest painterly homage to de Kooning, his art re-appropriates and re-imagines what art means and what it can be.

    Prince’s attraction to the nurse is manifold and somewhat of a paradox. He once explained in an interview, “I’m painting nurses. I like their hats.
    Their aprons. Their shoes. My mother was a nurse. My sister was a nurse. My grandmother and two cousins were nurses. I collect ‘nurse’ books. Paperbacks. You can’t miss them. They’re all over the airport. I like the words ‘nurse,’ ‘nurses,’ ‘nursing.’ I’m recovering” (Interview with R. Prince, “Like a Beautiful Scar on Your Head,” Modern Painters 15, no. 3, Autumn 2002). Ever the avid collector and cultural curator, these ‘nurse’ books became the inspiration for his Nurse paintings.

    Based on the 1953 Norman Bligh novel whose spoiler reads: “A private nurse learns the naked truth about men!”, Wayward Nurse¸ painted between 2006 and 2010, is arguably the most visually striking and important work from this series. Painted in vivid reds set against bright white it screams of macabre violence and unadulterated sex — the viewer finds themselves transfixed (and shocked) by the sheer visual splendor of the canvas. Prince’s color choice and brushwork is so vibrant and evocative that it is impossible not to imagine her attending to the victims of Warhol’s Red Car Crash.

    Bligh’s Wayward Nurse stands in a door frame, with her hand evocatively resting on the door handle and a somewhat mischievous look on her face. Her mail suitor leers wantonly at her from a bed with an expectant expression. Her bare knee is exposed under her nurse’s uniform and her eyes look off into the distance, perhaps checking to ensure their privacy. Bligh’s nurse (and Prince’s) is evocative of Roy Lichtenstein’s Nurse from 1964 who also looks as if she has been momentarily caught off guard or surprised by some lurid scheme. These are indeed wayward nurses, the cover of Bligh’s book smacking of an illicit tryst about to take place.

    Prince’s brush transforms this original cover (which has been scanned, printed and enlarged onto canvas) with layer upon layer of white pigment until all that remain are the nurse and the title, with only very subtle hints of the cover imagery peeking through. By so doing, Prince has isolated his Wayward Nurse and transformed her into something altogether different — bolder and lustier than her namesake. By obscuring the man from the original cover with heavy swaths of white paint, Prince leaves us alone with our nurse. The viewer no longer sees her mail suitor leering over her shoulder, which only heightens the tension of the painting as we are left wondering what bloody disaster or sexual escapade she is emerging from. The layers of white paint render the painting bright and sterile, much like a hospital. This monochrome
    background creates a potent and shocking plane from which the now displaced, and bloodied, nurse emerges.

    Stamped above her is her moniker, Wayward Nurse. There is no doubt that Prince’s nurse is indeed somewhat wanton and depraved. Or perhaps she is merely the casualty of an accident or love affair gone awry. Prince has always been interested in the correlation between image and text so it is no surprise then that the title of the book plays such an integral role in his nurse paintings. Without them, she would have no context other than being a beautiful (or in this case, sinister), floating figure. The words build a framework around her and create a story and association that continues to unfold every time the viewer looks at the canvas.

    Unlike many of Prince’s nurses, whose eyes he covers in a diaphanous veil of white paint, Prince has left his Wayward Nurse’s striking eyes, clear and piercing. They gaze off into the near distance — originally ensuring she and her lover had privacy but this time perhaps checking to cover her tracks. The glimmer of vice and seduction hinted at by her eyes is metered by the fact that her eyes are her only means of expression. The mask protects her anonymity but also defaces and silences her. The viewer longs to see what expression she is hiding beneath it and this only heightens the innuendo and drama of the canvas. The dark and gory side of nursing and the fine line
    between life and death are explicitly hinted at by the violence of the bloodlike drips of burgundy and crimson paint that trickle down her arms and soak her dress. This explosion of red pigment creates a dynamically vivid image and nods directly at Cy Twombly’s frenzied Birth of Venus. Much like in Twombly’s painting, our nurse’s lurid glowing presence on the canvas stands in high contrast to the pure white background. She emerges from this sterile iciness, stopping at the front of the picture plane, addressing someone just out of our sight with a smoldering stare, her eyes possessing both a dark beauty and a sinister ghostliness.

    Ever the provocateur, Prince’s art is all about desire. It represents covetousness, of a beautiful woman or of an alpha male, of a luxury watch or a perfectly appointed living room, of sex or of words. The desire is never left unadulterated however — there is always an element of subversion or of something ever-so-slightly out of reach that brings such power to his work. There is always a hint of irony and a sense of humor in Prince’s paintings. A somewhat mysterious figure himself, we can never be quite sure of exactly how ironic Prince is trying to be and this leaves the viewer even more absorbed by his art.

    The nurse is a beautiful and in this case, dangerous (or perhaps damaged), representation of a fantasy based in reality - a composite embodiment of our culture’s overactive imaginations and cravings, both pure and salacious. It is an outdated perception yet still holds weight in today’s culture. Therein lays Prince’s strength — his ability to timelessly capture these flash moments in the American cultural vernacular and make them modern. Prince has doctored his nurses so they seem both delicate and glamorous yet still portray an element of delicious vice. And this is exactly what he is so known for — he takes the seemingly banal and elevates it to cult status, creating aesthetically stunning pieces that address the divergence between what is real and what is created. Layered with this depth, Wayward Nurse is a seminal piece — Prince has created art for art’s sake and just as he intended, this painting is a provocatively brilliant piece the viewer cannot tear their eyes away from.

  • Artist Biography

    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


Wayward Nurse (Crashed)

Acrylic and inkjet on canvas.
65 1/2 x 50 1/8 in. (166.4 x 127.3 cm.)
Signed, titled and dated “R. Prince Wayward Nurse 2006,” “2009 R. Prince Wayward Nurse” and “R. Prince Crashed 2010” on the overlap.

$4,000,000 - 6,000,000 

Sold for $4,562,500

Contemporary Art Part I

12 May 2011
New York