Richard Prince - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, November 16, 2016 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2005

  • Literature

    “The W Magazine Art Issue," W Magazine, November 2006, p. 340 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Richard Prince’s I Went to the Doctor combines text and painterly gesture on an epic scale that recalls the sublime canvases of the great titans of Post-War American art. Executed in 2003, the present lot perfectly coalesces Prince’s hallmark appropriation of popular culture with the sumptuous palette and “high art” handling of paint celebrated in his Nurses, conceived that same year. Indeed, in its fiery crimson palette, I Went to the Doctor is a crucial antecedent to some of the most important examples from the series, such as Runaway Nurse from 2005-2006. A testament to its pride of place in Prince’s practice, the work was the only painting presented in the artist’s feature in W Magazine’s Art Issue in 2006. I Went to the Doctor pushes Prince’s conceptual concerns further, by presenting the stacked letters which comprise his signature one-liner ablaze in golden tones that thrum against a fiery crimson background. Barely held by the confines of the canvas, the joke seems to project into our space. A rare instance in Prince’s canon, the joke begins to repeat, echoing like a blinking neon sign at a comedy club. This compositional motif stands as a dual-referent, both to the formal concerns of appropriation and to the essence the comic art form which is shared and repeated. As a result of Prince’s juxtaposition of seemingly discordant schools of art, I Went to the Doctor emerges as a contemporary palimpsest of sorts, a conceptual play on notions of abstraction in both text and image.

    I Went to the Doctor is a successor of his groundbreaking monochrome Joke paintings conceived in the late 1980s, which were created through Prince’s appropriation and re-imaging of jokes from what has been characterized as 'the fifties blue-collar middle America Borscht Belt'. However, I Went to the Doctor expands on Prince’s exploration of art and appropriation by presenting the joke on a canvas, which in its heroic-scale and gestural painterly application cannot help but evoke the iconic Post-War American imagery of Barnett Newman or Mark Rothko or Jasper Johns’ Numbers. With iconoclastic irreverence, Prince overlays his one-liner over a work indebted to the grand gestural paintings of the masters of American Post-War Art, and in doing so, succeeds in taking aim at the lofty concepts that defined their theories, resulting in a picture that is disarmingly resonant.

    The haloed letters set against the painterly depths of the crimson expanse not only recall his best Nurses from this same period, but also the idealized sunsets that foregrounded his iconic cowboys from the late 1980s. The pulsating glow from which Prince’s text emanates enables his joke to become the protagonist in this abstracted landscape, taking on an objecthood that sets it apart from the expansive painterly background. As such, Prince’s joke leaps from beyond the confines of the picture plane into our environment. And yet the joke does not act simply as a formal element from which to interrogate the limits of painting. The text is integral to our interaction with the work: as we look at the painting, we read the joke. Shared and repeated, the presence of the viewer brings Prince’s joke to its ultimate fruition. This tension between the physical properties of the work and its psychological effect lies at the heart of Prince’s artistic practice.

    In combining these various visual tools, Prince plays with notions of identity and authorship, concepts which have underpinned the artist’s entire oeuvre. While this particular joke is known to have originated with Henny Youngman, "The King of the One Liners", the source is not as important as the essential truth it captures about popular culture. In many ways, this specific joke combines some of the most central motifs interrogated in his practice. It’s reference to car theft not only recalls the recurring theme of American motor culture in his practice, from his car hoods to the Gangs, but the act is a direct reference to the artist’s mode of creation. In this way, the joke becomes a one-line “meta-joke” encompassing Prince’s entire practice, operating on multiple levels of self-referentiality. Following in the footsteps of Marcel Duchamp, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns, Prince pilfers contemporary subcultures for jokes and imagery that have themselves taken on a life of their own, having been repeated and reinvented by comedians and by casual raconteurs alike. Prince’s practice is defined by his sustained interrogation of the forgotten and outmoded narratives that have framed the way we perceive ourselves, and his obsession with subculture reveals a truer understanding of ourselves. Art scholar Lynne Cooke notes, that “Prince's works function best when they act as reminders of themselves, as traces of what has already been seen, revealed, or known”, and indeed the present lot is at once the progeny of his 80s monochromatic Jokes and bedfellow of his painterly Nurse series (Lynne Cooke, “Richard Prince. New York, Whitney Museum,” The Burlington Magazine, vol. 134, no. 1073, August 1992, p. 555).

  • 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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I Went to the Doctor

signed twice, titled and dated "I WENT to the DOCTOR 2003 RPrince RPrince" on the overlap
acrylic on canvas
89 x 75 in. (226.1 x 190.5 cm.)
Executed in 2003.

$2,000,000 - 3,000,000 

Sold for $1,570,000

Contact Specialist
Kate Bryan
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+ 1 212 940 1267

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 16 November 5 PM EST