Richard Prince - Photographs New York Monday, April 4, 2016 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Private Collection, Wyoming

  • Catalogue Essay

    Richard Prince ciphers desire, channeling its compounded transference through time and space. Exuding the romantic promise of freedom and rustic glamour, Untitled (Cowboy), 1993 carries with it a complex lineage of representation. Forged from the West, refined through the lens of cinema, perfected at the hands of advertisers, and transcended by Prince’s visionary appropriation, the mystique of the cowboy resounds through the American psyche. This iconic figure is defined just as much by his style—hat, boots, scruff, cigarette—as his attitude, and while there is no longer promise in the West, it can at least be adorned as an accessory.

    In the 1950s when Marlboro needed to promote filtered cigarettes, which were then predominately smoked by women, to male consumers, the famed advertiser Leo Burnett turned to the epitome of American masculinity—the cowboy—creating the Marlboro Man. The Marlboro Man, rugged, handsome, independent, hardworking, defined and perfected masculine glamour, appeared in advertising campaigns until the end of the twentieth century.

    Remarkably bold in composition and appropriative artistic gesture, Untitled (Cowboy) rides across the silhouetted plain, lasso in one hand, reigns in the other, a herd of wild mustangs galloping behind, as though somehow tamed by his profuse machismo. The glowing, cinematic sky and fading light signal that the day is almost finished, and soon will be rewarded with a cigarette, the pleasurable climax of a hard day’s work. This type of allusionary imagery, which refers to, but does not expressly show cigarettes or smoking, trades on the cowboy’s cultural currency and the viewer’s ability to access dislocated objects of desire. Such complex marketing images are born of necessity, the result of increased government regulation of tobacco advertising beginning in the 1980s when a more health conscious public began referring to Marlboro cigarettes as “cowboy killers.”

    It is the more broadly appealing, almost always cigarette-less imagery that Richard Prince originally recognized artistic possibility in. "I first started 'seeing' the Marlboro advertisement in 1980 while I was working at Time/Life magazine,” Prince recalls. “1980 was the first year they started using other models for the 'cowboy'.... I thought these new models were more generic and less identifiable and could make it seem like after the logo and copy were cropped out that the re-photographed image could be more my own. Every week I would 'claim one.'"

    The other print from this edition of two is in the permanent collection of the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.

  • 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 (Cowboy), 1993

Ektacolor print.
16 x 23 7/8 in. (40.6 x 60.6 cm)
Signed, dated and numbered 2/2 in ink on the verso.

$200,000 - 300,000 

Sold for $233,000

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Vanessa Hallett
Worldwide Head, Photographs

Sarah Krueger
Head of Sale, New York

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New York Auction 4 April 2016