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  • Provenance

    Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York

  • Catalogue Essay

    The “Joke” paintings have helped to shape Richard Prince’s prolific and varied body of work. As early as 1985 the first jokes appeared in graphite on paper, reproductions of those Prince saw in the paper. The drawings quickly evolved into works on canvas that were silk-screened, some with hand drawn marks produced by the artist in charcoal and marker. A large group of the early jokes were unapologetically deadpan, both in their approach to delivering the joke and in their application to the canvas. The jokes appear totally flat, their font basic and bold. The color of the text and the monochromatic backgrounds off-set one another dramatically; yellow and brown, purple and white, helping to emphasize the punch line. As viewers, we are conditioned to read these jokes much like we would read a book; left to right and top to bottom. Nobody is delivering the jokes to us, but rather we are delivering them to ourselves, in our heads.

    By the mid-to-late 90s, the “Joke” paintings began to incorporate more hand-drawn imagery. The backgrounds grew busier and more elaborate, blending the joke which was sometimes hand-scrawled with conte crayon or oilstick with the broad strokes of color. The application of these media were used to create abstract color fields, or as a base for cartoonish stick figures. The jokes became slightly cruder and started to create a dialogue between the passivity and childish nature of the background and the inherent rudeness of the joke in the foreground. As the “Joke” paintings progressed, the application of the joke became more linguistically complicated. Sentences would break and re-start again; lines of the joke would stop at the edge of the canvas and pick up again on the next line, two canvases would meet, joining the right and left with a central crease used to break up the joke into two parts. These verbal and visual tricks changed the dynamic in which we as viewers were able to access the material.

    In the present lot, My First Girl, Prince uses several different methods to deliver his joke. A form of repetition takes place in the second sentence, “Was that a girl, was that a girl.” The use of the comma and the carrying-over of the word “that” from the right edge of the canvas back to the third line emphasizes the suggestion that perhaps, that wasn’t a girl at all. We become more aware of the joke because of its repetition and the artist’s decision to start the joke all over again at its end. It gives the impression that the joke is being told on a loop, destined to be stuck in our heads. The soft pinks, blues and yellows that form the background and text of My First Girl, echoes the color choice of Prince’s car hoods and early Cowboy photographs, completed more than a decade prior. The soothing background is far less abrasive than many of the earlier joke paintings, adding to the whimsical nature of the composition. The muted color choice, however, is in sharp contrast to the underlying awkwardness of the joke itself.

    As in much of Prince’s work, there is pervasive sexual tension and ambiguity. It is an uncomfortable joke to tell and possibly even more so to hear. This is compounded by the absence of a question mark following the question “Was that a girl?” The joke becomes a proclamation on repeat, it becomes a truth, told to us rather than asked. As in all of Prince’s best “Joke” paintings, My First Girl, raises the level of awareness in the viewer. We are forced not only to struggle with the difficult delivery of the joke and its contortion of the English language but also its troubling subject matter and the anxiety raised in hearing and/or telling the joke. Ultimately, the experience of interacting with this joke is an intimate one, a personally reflective engagement that differs from person to person, but one which is always rewarding upon its completion.

  • 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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211

My First Girl

2004
Acrylic and checks on canvas.
40 x 72 in. (101.6 x 182.9 cm).
Signed, titled and dated “Richard Prince My First Girl 2004” on the reverse.

Estimate
£400,000 - 600,000 

Sold for £423,200

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Evening Sale
13 October 2007, 4pm
London