Richard Prince - Contemporary Art Day Sale New York Friday, November 14, 2014 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York
    Private Collection

  • Exhibited

    Chicago, The University of Chicago, The Renaissance Society, Watery, Domestic, November 17 - December 22, 2002

  • Catalogue Essay

    “Artists were casting sculptures in bronze, making huge paintings, talking about prices and clothes and cars and spending vast amounts of money. So I wrote jokes on little pieces of paper and sold them for $10 each.” Richard Prince, 2007

    Painted in 2001, What Can You Do? is a large-scale joke painting rendered on a smooth, powdery surface. Combining different modern traditions and techniques, such as silk-screening processes and monochrome canvases, Richard Prince’s jokes stand in between comical and disbelief, continually questioning definitions of art and of authorship. The plush pastel hues shy away from his more stark, monochromatic paintings from earlier on in his career. The present lot embodies an advanced take on his joke theme, employing a wider range of color which, in its particularly buttermilk yellow background, seems to have been chosen as a visual pun on the color-based punch line of the joke.

    The joke itself is stenciled in black in a narrow band across the width of the canvas. Richard Prince’s first joke paintings date back to the mid-1980s when, after having posted up a small handwritten joke on a piece of paper, he started imagining how it would have looked on a gallery wall. At first handwritten, his jokes developed in time into more substantial works in which the same joke is repeated on monochrome canvases of different colors. Prince has devoted his career to this surface unreality, attempting to collect, count and order its ways. He has said that his goal is a ‘virtuoso real’, something beyond real that is patently fake. But his art is inherently corrosive; it eats through things. His specialty is a carefully constructed hybrid that is also some kind of joke, charged by conflicting notions of high, low and lower.

    “I have never thought making anything new. I make it again. I am very much against trying to make anything new in a modernist approach. I think you can do only something for yourself.” (R. Prince in V. Pécoil, “Richard Prince, Writer”, in Richard Prince, Canaries in the Coal Mine, exh. cat, Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Oslo, 2006, p.128) What Can You Do? presents the viewer with a strangely puzzling juxtaposition of a minimalist canvas and painted words. Although this can be interpreted as a reference to postmodern linguistic theory, the work also points to two quintessentially American features: hard-edge abstraction and popular humor. Cleverly subverting the clean and serious language of abstract painting, the jokes' amalgamation of low and high culture characterizes Prince’s most iconic work. This intelligent fusion of conceptual strategies with popular cultural references, which has been the driving force throughout Richard Prince’s influential practice, is perfectly merged in What Can You Do?. Wittingly parodying the uncomplicated jokes from vernacular literature, the artist has found a way of incorporating a difficult subject-matter – humor – into a deeply serious artistic practice.

  • 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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What Can You Do?

acrylic on canvas
75 x 115 7/8 in. (190.5 x 294.3 cm)
Signed, titled and dated "R. Prince 2001 What Can You Do?" along the overlap.

$450,000 - 550,000 

Sold for $461,000

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

Contemporary Art Day Sale

New York Auction 14 November 2014 11am