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  • Provenance

    Galerie Maximillian, Aspen

  • Catalogue Essay

    Through processes of appropriation, Richard Prince explores the distinctive iconography of modern America. Surveying the cultural landscape with a gaze that is both searching and oddly inscrutable, he draws influence from the worlds of entertainment, branding and advertising. From cowboys to motorcycles, he works with a readymade pictorial mythology, displaying an instinctive understanding of pop cultural and sub-cultural imagery.

    Prince’s appropriative practice dates back to the late 1970s. Having moved to New York, he was working at Time-Life magazine where his role was to cut up and distribute sections of the publication. Left with the advertising pages at the end of the day, he recalls ‘authorless pictures, too good to be true, art-directed and over-determined and pretty-much like film stills ... and rather than tear them out of the magazines and paste them up on a board, I thought why not re-photograph them with a camera and then put them in a real frame’. (Richard Prince, ‘In the Picture: Jeff Rian in conversation with Richard Prince’, Rosetta Brooks, Jeff Rian, Luc Sante (eds.), Richard Prince, London & New York: Phaidon, 2003, p.12).

    Equipped with this technique, Prince rose to prominence as part of a new wave of photographers that included fellow experimenters Cindy Sherman and Sherrie Levine. His Cowboys series remains the most celebrated of his early period. Re-photographing adverts for Marlboro cigarettes, he removed text to re-imagine the images as cinematic tableaux. Depicting the Malboro Man, a rugged cowboy and ready embodiment of the frontiersman mentality, the works declined any authoritative statement of meaning. By one reading, they offer critical responses to the coalescence of brand, image and desire; by another, they pay homage to an aesthetic mode. Compounding this complexity are the questions of authority and cultural ownership which the pieces raise.

    Although radically different in form, the present lot owes a debt to these earlier photographic works. The process of casting through which the piece has been constructed is arguably a form of sculptural photography. It too is a means of reproduction: a way of creating an imitation that is also in some way distinct from the original. It marks an extension of Prince’s abiding interest in the possibilities of replication, and finds him seeking out new ways of reconstituting the world around him. In this piece, Prince is at his most conceptually challenging, asking about the interstices between different artistic forms.

    Equally significant is the subject matter of Untitled (Van Doors); after all, vehicles have a long and symbolically rich history in Prince’s work. Motorcycles feature extensively in his Girlfriends series, figuring in licentious and sexualised terms. But by far the most significant antecedent is his Car Hoods series on which he worked from 1987 until 2002. Collecting hoods, principally from muscle cars, Prince would isolate and paint over them. The result was a succession of immaculate compositions which, as Rosetta Brooks notes suggest ‘subliminal connections with speed, youth, and glamour.’ (Rosetta Brooks, ‘A Prince of Light or Darkness?’, Rosetta Brooks, Jeff Rian, Luc Sante (eds.), Richard Prince, London & New York: Phaidon, 2003, p.64). These distinctly American forms hold an enduring power for Prince. As Ed Pilkington remarks, ‘an obsession with evident in his Catskill compound...[where] he has built a metal barn that he calls the Body Shop. It houses old Dodge Chargers from the late 1960s, a brand new Ford GT racing car, and several of his repainted car hoods.’ (Ed Pilkington, ‘My Way or the Highway, The Guardian, 11 October 2007)

    Untitled (Van Doors) delves further into the mythology of the American road. Departing from the sleekness of the muscle car, Prince chooses an altogether bulkier vehicle, but one which is no less laden with iconic power and urgent physicality. Replicating the back doors of a van, he envisages the vehicle from behind. A familiar form, this is an image with its origins in the experience of driving, looking out through a windscreen at the car in front. It brings with it resonances of long journeys, and roads stretching towards the horizon, implicitly rallying a host of cultural associations. It is an image that is deeply ingrained in the contemporary consciousness, and Prince’s innovation is to reposition it as an artwork.

    This principle defines much of his work, underpinning the technique of re-photography whereby images are transferred from the pages of magazines to the walls of galleries. It persists in more recent departures from photography too. A 2007 piece entitled Pure Thoughts saw a 1970 Dodge Challenger placed atop a podium, ascribed aesthetic rather than functional value. At the heart of these works is the notion of the American readymade. Working with the material of mass culture, he rearticulates a series of images that loom large in the national imagination. The present lot, like much of his work, is heavy with connotative weight. It is an iconic image that belongs to the American highway and its representation in mass culture. It relates not only to the artist’s body of work with vehicular forms, but also to an entire practice of appropriative art in different media.

  • 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 (Van Door)

cast resin, fibreglass
130.5 x 146.3 x 13 cm (51 3/8 x 57 5/8 x 5 1/8 in.)
Signed, numbered and dated 'Prince 1/3 2006' on the reverse. This work is number 1 from an edition of 3.

£150,000 - 250,000 

Sold for £136,900

Contact Specialist
Peter Sumner
Head of Contemporary Art, London
[email protected]
+44 207 318 4063

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London 29 June 2015 7pm