Richard Prince - Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, May 9, 2012 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York

  • Catalogue Essay

    The lozenge is almost like one of those old black bars that they used to put over women’s faces in porn magazines if they didn’t want to be identified. I like the idea-it’s almost like it has this kind of relation to the nurses’ mask. It’s a way of making it all the same and getting rid of the personality.

    RICHARD PRINCE

    (Richard Prince, from an interview with Glenn O’Brien, Interview, November 28, 2008).

    Richard Prince, in chronicling the unsung, unpretty, and usually unseen American identity, has engendered in the past three decades a holistic representation of the American underbelly. He has elevated the ubiquitous, such as his “rephotographs” of mass marketing schemes, in particular the Marlboro ads of the later 1970s and early 1980s. He has also humbled the loftiest, as embodied in his sexualizing many beloved one-liners in his “joke” series. He has also exhibited a masterful eye for fusing and conflating many of our most entrenched American stereotypes in his art, and no where is this more apparent than in his on-going Nurse series. The present lot, Emergency Nurse, 2005, is a perfect example of Prince’s layering of societal expectations, through the lens of American archetypes, and the titillating subtextual implications within them.

    Despite their seeming omnipresence as contemporary art standards, Prince’s Nurse paintings have existed for less than a decade, tracing their origins to 2003 and their debut at Barbara Gladstone Galleries. The visual basis for each painting is a paperback from Prince’s personal collection of pulp novels from the 1950s and 1960s, each featuring the scandalous protagonista of the nurse in its title and on its cover. To attain a size appropriate for altering and manipulating, Prince’s technique is a melding of the digital and analog age: he scans his image, and subsequently adds many stratums of paint. He typically maintains a few constants in his painting phase, namely that of the obscuring of all characters but the nurse herself and also placing a surgical mask over the nurse’s face. In doing so, Prince has advanced his appropriation techniques from an earlier phase of his career. The Nurse paintings are “an extension of the blurring, smudging, and muddling up pictorial language, with which he first started experimenting in the late 1980s.”(M. Collings, “Richard Prince’s Fettered Feelings”, Richard Prince: Nurse Paintings, New York, 2003, p. 6).

    The present lot maintains all of Prince’s usual approaches in giving life to his “nurse paintings”, but it also boasts qualities that make it a unique and fascinating star of the series. His canvas bears all the trademarks of the series: the title of the novel, “Emergency Nurse” is slightly blurred out in light pinks and oranges, leaving only a ghostly remainder. In addition, Prince dons his heroine with a stark white mask, mostly obscuring her face and eyes. She is alone in a fantasy. The hint of a male companion is only barely visible in the cloud of blue paints to the left of the protagonist; erased from the story, he only hovers above the nurse like a haunted spirit.

    Yet Prince’s canvas breathes with an exceptional life: as he paints over the other characters on the blown-up cover of the novel, Prince intentionally uses a violent shade of blue, almost as if to imply that the Emergency Nurse is engaging in an assignation with a shadow. The colors of an enflamed landscape swirl behind her—blacks and burnt oranges give the illusion of a horizon towards the upper-portion of the canvas. Her chattiness with the illusive figure, compounded with the flow of red from her masked mouth, gives Prince’s nurse a possibly sinister existence. In her hand, she clutches a briefcase, but whether the enclosed documents are medical records or wicked materials is a matter of speculation.

    Another more urgent matter is the fact that our nurse is almost completely blinded by her surgical mask, an alarming impediment if she is to carry out her chosen profession. Back at the hospital, she could miss the patient’s vein, and perhaps hit upon a much more vital area. Prince’s Emergency Nurse finds herself in a bevy of controversial interpretation—is she rushing to the emergency, or is she the emergency? However, though it may ring of immediate danger, the blinding is not without its humorous element, for “the blinding paintings, where he really has smudged out her eyes, have much more playful abstract qualities than the ones where you naturally want to look at her face.”(M. Collings, “Richard Prince’s Fettered Feelings”, Richard Prince: Nurse Paintings, New York, 2003, p. 7). The Emergency Nurse is a creature up for interpretation.

    Prince’s impressive talent for suggestion lends itself to a debate about the sociological implications of his picture: “with each image, Prince conflates the various sociosexual stereotypes embodied by the figure of the nurse: Good Samaritan, naughty seductress, old battle-ax, and devil incarnate. He depicts each figure as both vamp and victim, undone by desire.” (N. Spector, “Nowhere Man’, Richard Prince, New York, 2007, p. 52-53). In doing so, Prince manages to strip away our best notion of the caregiver in favor of a more realistic portrait of our darkest fantasies. The character in the painting is a result of many gazes: the sexist, the sexual, and the abjectly vulnerable.

    In exposing all of the conflicting stereotypes of a favorite female stock character, “Prince uses gender as a masquerade, freely shifting between roles, which in the process appear increasingly artificial and socially contingent.” (N. Spector, “Nowhere Man’, Richard Prince, New York, 2007, p. 52-53). In other words, as he breaks down the many elements inherent in the nurse as a popular figure, he negates each and every one of them. Suddenly, we realize that the female figure before us is simply a woman. It is startling to think that, as we look upon Emergency Nurse, 2005, our vulnerability as observers is identical to that as patients in an intensive care unit: the identity of our caretakers may be up for debate, yet we still place in them our unyielding trust. Placing trust in our Emergency Nurse, we hope that she is not up to no good. But Richard Prince’s genius lies in his ability to make us doubt ourselves.

  • 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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32

Emergency Nurse

2004
acrylic and inkjet on canvas
60 x 46 in. (152.4 x 116.8 cm)
Signed, titled, and dated “Richard Prince, Emergency Nurse, 2004” on the reverse.

Estimate
$3,000,000 - 5,000,000 

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

10 May 2012
New York