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  • Provenance

    Gladstone Gallery, New York

  • Catalogue Essay

    Richard Prince culls his subject matter from the detritus of America media, finding inspiration and imagery in the blue-collar, consumer driven and image hungry products of our local television and pop-culture publications. Cars, women, film, pulp fiction, food advertisements, fashion and sex are all victims of Prince’s brilliant visual piracy. His works are a study in contradictions: intensely ironic but still sincere, mimetic but surprisingly original and consistently banal yet always shocking. The artist toys with ideas of authorship and originality by re-contextualizing his visual icons and idioms. Experience working in the tear sheet department of Time Life during the 1970s, clipping articles for various editors at the magazines, provided him with the material to build this visual vernacular. Forced to dismantle and examine thousands of texts and advertisements, the artist began to notice endless repetitions and patterns inherent in the imagery. The genesis of his explosive career can be epitomized in a work from 1977, during his tenure at Time Life. It was then that he first took the radical step of “re-photographing” an existing photo and subsequently re-imagined the processes of art, suggesting art was as much editing, culling and composing as it was the isolated act of creation.
    Appropriation and the idea of the replica, famously discussed by Walter Benjamin in his 1936 essay, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, is given a 21st century retrofit by Prince. He goes farther than Benjamin’s prophetic prose which states, “For the first time in world history, mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual,” the ritual, being the object’s status as an original defined by its provenance, exhibition, confirmed authenticity and general cultural worth. Prince goes so far that he successfully emancipates the mechanical reproduction not only from its actual published context by removing or rephotographing it, he even succeeds in changing the fundamental interpretation of the image itself. Advertisements cease being advertisements and become elegies on consumerism and gender stereotypes, home snapshots became crude views into subaltern American culture and even a simple joke becomes a stark treatise on the human condition. (Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, 1936, Part IV, translated by Andy Blunden, 1998)
    Prince has achieved an enviable state of grace: Everything he touches turns into, well, a Prince – which is to say a valuable piece of brand-name art. And yet (this is the genius part), by now it seems that everything he touches (and lately, that includes landmarks of modern art) is already, and excruciatingly, Princian. This is no mean feat: It has involved years of what – reserve? discipline? patience? – years in which his inspired circumventions and enlargements of the frame quietly kept the secret of his art. In the face of criticism that his work is merely arch or glib, Prince has remained as mum as his great precursor. He has left us all that we need – and then some. It is up to us to make a whole of the modest, vivid, sometimes toxic parts. For the artist to say more would be to give away the game. And Prince – of this much one may be certain – is not the type to spill the beans.
    J. Bankowksy, Ciao Rensselaerville, Richard Prince, NewYork, 2007, p. 346
    In the 1980s, Prince began making his “joke” paintings, cleverly subversive canvases which use block letters and a brutally minimalistic composition  pose dime-store punch lines as both the work’s subject matter and content. These “Joke” paintings, as they are commonly called, have come to define a large part of Prince’s oeuvre and this work, Untitled (Portrait) from 2007, adopts their visual language. Untitled (Portrait) replaces the punch line with song titles from various SonicYouth albums, etched over a grid-ed photo collage of the band members, publicity stills, album covers and Nurse paintings. The resulting aesthetic quotes the Abstract Expressionist “Alphabet Paintings” of Jasper Johns as easily as it does the post-modern appropriations of Sherrie Levine and Richard Pettibone. In 2004, SonicYouth collaborated with Richard Prince to create the iconic cover of their album, aptly named Sonic Nurse. According to Kim Gordon, lead singer of the band, the cover came about because, “I had gone to see that show of Richard’s Nurse paintings. At first it was kind of like a guilty pleasure. I mean, I liked the paintings, but it was almost like I liked them too much. But when it came time to think of artwork for our record, and a title, Thurston [Moore – Lead Guitarist] actually brought it up. I’m always hesitant to mention artists, but it’s almost like he read my mind. Anyways, it was great because suddenly there was also a title – because it just made sense, Sonic Nurse – and that was part of the fun of it, (Nancy Spector, Richard Prince, exh. cat. Guggenheim Museum, 2007, pg 306).
    In Untitled (Portrait), 2007, Prince extends his visual and verbal appropriations to the images and words of a legendary alternative rock band. He transposes wild imagery and seditious song lyrics into an aesthetically pleasing array of Easter hued colors and assorted characters. The sarcasm of song titles like “Cinderella’s Big Score” are masked by the truncated lines and broken-up text which reinforce the visual shape of the characters but distract from their meanings. At first glance, one could accept this work as a sublime abstraction, before coming close to reveal the collaged chaos and derisive subject matter lying coyly on its surface.

  • 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 (Portrait)


Acrylic and paper collage on canvas.

95 x 91 3/4 in. (241.3 x 233 cm).

Signed, titled, and dated “R. Prince 2007 Untitled Portrait” on the overlap.

$1,650,000 - 1,750,000 

Sold for $1,273,000

Contemporary Art Part I

15 May 2008, 7pm
New York