Richard Prince - Contemporary Art Part I New York Wednesday, May 11, 2011 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Gagosian Gallery, New York

  • Catalogue Essay

    Richard Prince’s Joke Paintings have remained a constant high point within the artist’s output for over two decades. Most of Prince’s earlier Jokes feature lettering in a single solid color against a contrasting single-color ground, with little to no supplemental imagery or ornamentation. The present lot demonstrates the evolution of Prince’s series, as it includes a new style of lettering and a complex and intricate backdrop for his text. Whereas in many of Prince’s other paintings the lettering was the obvious focus of the work, here the words are slightly more difficult to pick out against the busy background. The lettering is also constrained within a rectangular shape
    in the center of the canvas rather than extended across its entire width. It seems that Prince has intensified “a carefully constructed hybrid that is also some kind of joke, charged by conflicting notions of high, low and lower” (R. Smith, The New York Times, September 28, 2007).

    The work is technically lush, utilizing both acrylic and collage. The centered block letters read, in nine rows, “I never had a penny to my name, so I changed my name. Again, I never had a penn.” Prince’s obvious joke is corroborated by letters cut in half, and even missing with respect to final “y” in penny. One must assume that he did not have enough to his name even to get the text set correctly. The background is a storm of yellow, green, and pink swirls, layered on the painting’s collage element: vintage nurse romance novel covers, a subject of his voracious collecting that has made it’s way into his art making practice. “ I don’t see any difference now between what I collect and what I make. It’s become the same. What I’m collecting will, a lot of times, end up in my work.”

    Clearly referencing and building upon Prince’s own body of work by returning to the original inspiration for many of his other paintings yet approaching it in a new way; Untitled Joke Painting it is a fusion of his previous artistic stylings. Interestingly, the joke Prince prints across the present lot is entirely unrelated to the subject of nurses, and thus the viewer might be left wondering what the connection is between the subject and its background. Perhaps there exists a fabulously esoteric answer to this riddle. Or, perhaps, Prince looks to make a joke out of the viewer’s confusion. As he is quoted above, Prince is very honest concerning the roots of his painterly subjects. If what he has collected also amounts to the oeuvre he has amassed, perhaps it’s simply natural for one piece to pratfall over another.

  • 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.

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Untitled Joke Painting

Collage and acrylic on canvas.
48 x 36 in. (121.9 x 91.4 cm.)
Signed and dated “R. Prince 2009” on the reverse.

$350,000 - 450,000 

Sold for $782,500

Contemporary Art Part I

12 May 2011
New York