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Artists Richard Prince

Richard Prince

American Painter, Photographer, & Sculptor

Movements: The Pictures Generation, Conceptual Art

Born: 1949 - Panama Canal Zone

Quotes

"Sometimes when I walk into a gallery and I see someone's work, I think to myself, 'Gee, I wish I had done that.'"
Richard Prince
"I don't see any difference now between what I collect and what I make. It becomes the same."
Richard Prince
"I seem to go after images that I don't quite believe. And, I try to re-present them even more unbelievably."
Richard Prince
"My studio is the only place I feel good in. There, I'm fearless; outside, I'm a mess."
Richard Prince
"If a picture was once worth a thousand words, one square inch of an image is now worth 360,000 bytes of computer storage space."
Richard Prince
"What I find is that the taking, the stealing, the appropriation of images has to do with prior availability, and it sets up a degree where things can be shared... It's like 50% off... You can let something of another emotion or another personality sign on your work, or co-sign it."
Richard Prince
"If, as Pablo Picasso (paraphrasing T.S. Eliot) is oft quoted as saying, 'Good artists borrow but great artists steal,' then there is no doubt that Mr. Prince is a great one, since he has stolen successfully for years."
Adam Lindemann, Collector and Writer for the The Observer
"I don't see irony in Richard's work in the end; there's a real pathos there."
Nancy Spector, Chief Curator, Brooklyn Museum
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"So sometimes it's better not to be successful and well known and you can get away with much more. I knew what I was stealing 30 years ago but it didn't matter because no one cared."

Synopsis

One of the most infamous appropriation artists, Richard Prince has employed a number of strategies to question the authorship and ownership of artistic imagery. By rephotographing, copying, scanning, and manipulating the work of others, he has crafted a technique of appropriation and provocation. Drawing his subjects from subcultures and cultural cliches, Prince also demonstrates how easily we accept marketing messages and stereotypes, and how dependent these icons are on the context in which they are presented. Stripped from their original environment, Prince makes the familiar seem strange, and invites the viewer to scrutinize that which is usually consumed in a quick glance.

Key Ideas

By reproducing the cliches of advertising and mass media in the gallery space, Prince forces the viewer to confront how these messages are fiction. Prince specifically chooses iconic cultural symbols, such as the lone cowboy or the sexy nurse, which he both celebrates and exposes as false constructions.
Prince's appropriation techniques have invited multiple lawsuits, with mixed results. His process of borrowing, sampling, or copying the work of others has forced a legal and artistic reconsideration of the rights of reproduction and the ownership of images.
Akin to Marcel Duchamp's readymade sculptures, which were "chosen" mass-produced objects made art by their context, Prince's appropriation of work by other artists has prompted new thinking about the limits of ownership. While his tactics are sometimes questionably legal, Prince has "chosen" artworks to reproduce, and has been able to circulate them despite the protests of the original artist or owner.
Prince's similar working methods of appropriation and mass-media sources soon brought him into the circle known as the "Pictures Generation." Alongside artists like Cindy Sherman and Sherrie Levine, who also explored the ways that generic images connoted meaning, Prince deconstructed the codes of advertising and commercial photography, revealing their repetitions and cliches.

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Most Important Art

Spiritual America (1983)
Prince's most infamous appropriation presents us with a highly disturbing image and questions of authorship, ownership, and consent. Originally taken by a commercial photographer, Gary Gross, in 1976, this photograph of a young Brooke Shields is unsettlingly near to child pornography. Shields, age 10, stands at the center of the frame, her arms outstretched to expose her nude figure. Her gaze meets that of the viewer with a look that is disconcertingly alluring. Light from the window bounces off her glistening skin and the white smoke that rises up to her knees. This mature expression and seductive stance are in direct conflict with her undeveloped body and obvious youth. It is doubtlessly a provocative and highly sexualized image of a prepubescent girl.

While the image is visually troubling, the story of its origin is also unsavory. The original photograph had been taken with the consent of Shields's mother, who sold Gross the unlimited publication rights for $450. At the time, in 1976, Shields was relatively unknown. In 1983, the year of Prince's rephotograph, Shields and her mother had sued Gross in an attempt to suppress the image, but were unsuccessful. In the press surrounding this court battle, the photograph was never reproduced by the mainstream media, but Prince found it in an adult publication (Little Women), rephotographed it, and presented it in a gallery on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Visitors to the show were only admitted by invitation, transforming the exhibition into an elite event; yet, as this was the only image on display, viewers had to acknowledge that they had come specifically to see this controversial work, making them complicit in the exploitation of the young Shields. Prince therefore exposed not only the salacious work, the dubious conditions of its origin and the consent of the subject, but also the public's fascination with scandal. The title of Prince's rephotograph and of the exhibition, Spiritual America, was taken from a pre-existing source, an Alfred Stieglitz photograph of a gelded horse, often interpreted as a critique of American prudishness or repression.

The recontextualization of this disturbing photograph reveals a distinction between fine art and commercial photography: in its original context, meant for distribution in adult publications, the work borders on child pornography; presented as an artwork, Prince joins a tradition of representing the female (including the prepubescent) nude. Rather than clarifying the distinction between high and low art, however, Prince's rephotograph lingers in the gray area between them; he has created a work that speaks the language of both the highest and lowest registers of culture, without resting completely in either one. The framing of Shields's highly aestheticized body between two figurative sculptures recalls a tradition of figurative painting. In the gallery context, viewers are expected to dispassionately appreciate her beauty, and yet, this new context does not entirely erase the traces of the image's origins, something uncomfortably tawdry remains. Even the lofty title, Spiritual America, does not transform the photograph into high art, but helps to position Prince's work as a critique of American culture, exploitation and ambition.

Unsurprisingly, the work remains highly controversial. In 2009, it was banned from an exhibition at the Tate Modern in London at the demand of the police. The photograph was replaced by a 2005 version, Spiritual America IV, in which Brooke Shields, then 40 years old, reproduced the original pose while dressed in a bikini. This work has been applauded for returning agency to Shields, who acknowledges the original photograph while choosing, as an adult, the terms of how she wants to display her body.
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Biography

Childhood and Education

Richard Prince was born in 1949 in the Panama Canal Zone, where his parents were stationed with the United States government. In an interview with the English author, J.G. Ballard, eighteen-year old Prince maintained that his parents worked for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a forerunner of the modern CIA; given Prince's love of hoaxes, however, and Ballard's later career as a renowned science fiction novelist, this claim is dubious at best. The family later relocated to Braintree, Massachusetts, outside of Boston. Growing up in the 1960s, he embraced the era's distinct counter-cultures, even attending Woodstock. Prince admits to exhibiting obsessive tendencies in his adolescence, such as rearranging his room multiple times and vacuuming his carpet into patterns.

After graduating high school in 1967, Prince made a short trip to Europe, returning to the United States to attend Nasson College, a private liberal arts college in Maine. In 1973 he fulfilled his dream of moving to New York City, where he juggled several odd jobs; most notable was his stint at Time Inc. where he worked in the tear sheet department. Responsible for distributing articles within the company, he would clip them from magazines, leaving behind images and advertisements. Through this process, he discovered his first source of inspiration: the repeated cliches and patterns of advertising. In a process that the artist compares to beachcombing, Prince dug through pages and pages of unwanted magazine ads and began to experiment with them.

Early Period

Richard Prince Biography

Without any traditional artistic training, Prince's emergence into the art world was more notable for his exploration of contemporary art theory, than for his technical proficiency. He began by collaging and re-photographing images from marketing campaigns and mass media sources. These techniques of appropriation were part of a larger movement, often referred to as the Pictures Generation, of questioning authorship, originality, and tradition. He mined stereotypes of American culture and various subcultures, selecting their most recognizable attributes and isolating them from any supporting context. His Cowboy series, re-photographed images of the iconic Marlboro Man without any advertising text, was an early success. He used similar strategies of appropriation for his Girlfriends series, which used images of biker girls from motorcycle and car magazines, and his Nurse paintings, drawn from the covers of pulp fiction novels.

While Prince began as a photographer, he has explored different media, including painting, digital manipulation and even three-dimensional work. He uses readymade materials, such as his Hood sculptures, which are made from mail-ordered car hoods, painted to reflect the American fetishization of the car.

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Richard Prince Biography Continues

Prince's fame grew quickly: within 12 years of his first solo show in the city, Prince was given an exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art and his work began breaking records at auction. Prints of his Cowboy (2000) and Spiritual America (1981) rank among the 10 most expensive photographs ever sold at auction.

Current Work

Richard Prince Photo

In recent years, Prince's use of appropriation has been problematic, resulting in multiple lawsuits. Shortly after Prince joined the Gagosian galleries in 2008, his "Canal Zone" series sparked a costly lawsuit when the French photographer, Patrick Cariou, sued Prince for the unlawful use of his original photographs. A number of Prince's paintings in this series were based on photographs taken by Cariou. The case has remained influential, weighing artistic freedom and fair use guidelines against copyright protections. The rulings were mixed, initially supporting Cariou's claim and then supporting Prince upon appeal. The case was settled in 2014, allowing that 25 of 30 paintings from he "Canal Zone" series did not violate Cariou's copyright, with an out of court agreement compensating the artist for the additional five images. Prince's most recent series, New Portraits (2014), based on Instagram photos, has also resulted in legal action by the original photographers, a matter that remains unresolved at the time of this writing.

A bibliophile, Prince collects rare editions of books. He specializes in texts by the Beat Generation, a group of writers in the 1950s known for their antiestablishment stance and emphasis on spiritual, but not necessarily religious, themes. Prince owns a copy of On the Road inscribed to Jack Kerouac's mother as well as the copy formerly owned by Neal Cassady, Kerouac's close friend and inspiration for a central character. In 2011, the Bibliotheque Nationale de France held an exhibition, "Richard Prince: American Prayer," of Prince's books paired with his artwork. The artist also funded a library in his local town to house his collection.


Legacy

Continuing a practice that began in the era of Andy Warhol and Pop art, Prince's practice of blurring the boundaries between fine art and advertisement, along with his frequent and unapologetic use of appropriation has altered the ways in which artists understand their ownership of images. His use of visual cliches reinforced Cindy Sherman's exploration of visual stereotypes and his method of rephotographing influenced Sherrie Levine's reproductions of modernist art. His brazen and unapologetic manner was an important model for the Young British Artists (YBAs), especially the work of Damien Hirst. Nearly forty years after first stirring controversy, Prince continues to be one of the most provocative artists working today.

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Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Richard Prince
Interactive chart with Richard Prince's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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View Influences Chart

Artists

Jackson Pollock
Andy Warhol
Alfred Stieglitz
Willem de Kooning

Friends

Barbara Gladstone
Larry Gagosian
Douglas Crimp

Movements

Appropriation Art
Pop Art
Beat Generation
Richard Prince
Richard Prince
Years Worked: 1975 - Present

Artists

Kelley Walker
Cindy Sherman
Sherrie Levine
Jack Goldstein

Friends

Jerry Saltz
Cindy Sherman
Jeff Koons
Damien Hirst

Movements

Appropriation Art
Young British Artists



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Useful Resources on Richard Prince

Books
Websites
Articles
Audio
Videos
More
The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.
biography
Richard Prince

By Lisa Phillips

Richard Prince

By Rosetta Brooks & Jeff Rian

written by artist
4X4

By Richard Prince

Richard Prince: Collected Writings

By Richard Prince

More Interesting Books about Richard Prince
Richard Prince

Artist official site

Richard Prince

Skarsted Gallery

Richard Prince

Gagosian Gallery

Richard Prince's Outside Streak

By Steven Daly
Venity Fair
December 2007

The Joker: Richard Prince at the Guggenheim

By Peter Schjedahl
The New Yorker
October 15, 2007

The Duchamp of the Muscle Car

By Randy Kennedy
The New York Times
September 23, 2007

Richard Prince's picture of Brooke Shields removed from Pop Life: Art in a Material World

By Josephine Breese
This Is Tomorrow: Contemporary Art Magazine
October 1, 2009

More Interesting Articles about Richard Prince
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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors

Edited and revised by Sarah Archino

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors
Edited and revised by Sarah Archino
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Marcel Duchamp
Marcel Duchamp
Marcel Duchamp
The French artist Marcel Duchamp was an instrumental figure in the avant-garde art worlds of Paris and New York. Moving through Dada, Surrealism, readymades, sculpture, and installation, his work involves conceptual play and an implicit attack on bourgeois art sensibilities.
TheArtStory: Marcel Duchamp
Readymade
Readymade
Readymade
A readymade is a pre-existing, non-art object which has been used in the context of art. Marcel Duchamp is credited with inventing the readymade in 1913 when he inverted a bicycle wheel on a stool, titling it simply, Bicycle Wheel. The idea has been highly influential, particularly since the 1960s.
Readymade
Cindy Sherman
Cindy Sherman
Cindy Sherman
Cindy Sherman is an American photographer and film director, best known for her conceptual portraits. Sherman has raised challenging and important questions about the role and representation of women in society, the media and the nature of the creation of art.
TheArtStory: Cindy Sherman
Sherrie Levine
Sherrie Levine
Sherrie Levine
Sherrie Levine is an American photographer, appropriation artist, and seminal figure of the Pictures Generation. The subject of much controversy in the 1980s, Levine is best known for her rephotographs of work by Edward Weston, Vincent van Gogh, and Paul Cézanne.
Sherrie Levine
Beat Generation
Beat Generation
Beat Generation
The Beat Generation was a group of authors published and popularized throughout the 1950's influenced by American culture in the wake of World war II. In the spirit of this movement anti-materialism and flight from standard values were common, while spiritualism and various types of liberation were embraced.
Beat Generation
Jack Kerouac
Jack Kerouac
Jack Kerouac
Jack Kerouac was an American author and poet, known for being one of the pioneers of the Beat Generation.
Jack Kerouac
Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol was an American Pop artist best known for his prints and paintings of consumer goods, celebrities, and photographed disasters. One of the most famous and influential artists of the 1960s, he pioneered compositions and techniques that emphasized repetition and the mechanization of art.
TheArtStory: Andy Warhol
Pop Art
Pop Art
Pop Art
British artists of the 1950s were the first to make popular culture the dominant subject of their art, and this idea became an international phenomenon in the 1960s. But the Pop art movement is most associated with New York, and artists such as Andy Warhol, who broke with the private concerns of the Abstract Expressionists, and turned to themes which touched on public life and mass society.
TheArtStory: Pop Art
Young British Artists
Young British Artists
Young British Artists
Young British Artists is the name given to a group of conceptual artist, painters, sculptors and installation artists based in the United Kingdon, most of whom attended Goldsmiths College in London. The title is derived from shows of that name staged at the Saatchi Gallery from 1992 onwards, which brought the artists to fame.
TheArtStory: Young British Artists
Damien Hirst
Damien Hirst
Damien Hirst
Damien Hirst is a British installation and conceptual artist, and in the 1980s was a founding member of the Young British Artists (YBAs). His best known work is Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991), comprised of a dead tiger shark suspended in a vitrine of formaldehyde.
TheArtStory: Damien Hirst
The Pictures Generation
The Pictures Generation
The Pictures Generation
The Pictures Generation was a loosely knit group of artists working in photography, and video who utilized appropriation and montage to reveal the constructed nature of images.
TheArtStory: The Pictures Generation
Conceptual Art
Conceptual Art
Conceptual Art
Conceptual art describes an influential movement that first emerged in the mid-1960s and prized ideas over the formal or visual components of traditional works of art. The artists often challenged old concepts such as beauty and quality; they also questioned the conventional means by which the public consumed art; and they rejected the conventional art object in favor of diverse mediums, ranging from maps and diagrams to texts and videos.
TheArtStory: Conceptual Art
Jackson Pollock
Jackson Pollock
Jackson Pollock
Jackson Pollock was the most well-known Abstract Expressionist and the key example of Action Painting. His work ranges from Jungian scenes of primitive rites to the purely abstract "drip paintings" of his later career.
TheArtStory: Jackson Pollock
Alfred Stieglitz
Alfred Stieglitz
Alfred Stieglitz
Alfred Stieglitz was an American photographer who published the pioneering journal Camera Work. His gallery 291 was a locus for modern artists in America.
TheArtStory: Alfred Stieglitz
Willem de Kooning
Willem de Kooning
Willem de Kooning
Willem de Kooning, a Dutch immigrant to New York, was one of the foremost Abstract Expressionist painters. His abstract compositions drew on Surrealist and figurative traditions, and typified the expressionistic 'gestural' style of the New York School.
TheArtStory: Willem de Kooning
Barbara Gladstone
Barbara Gladstone
Barbara Gladstone
Barbara Gladstone is an American art dealer and film producer, and owner of Gladstone Gallery in New York City. The gallery is concentrated exclusively exhibiting rarely seen American and Italian contemporary artists.
Barbara Gladstone
Larry Gagosian
Larry Gagosian
Larry Gagosian
Larry Gagosian is an American art dealer who owns a chain of Gagosain Galleries, which is the biggest and most estimeed in the world. These venues hold shows that often match musuem exhibitions.
Larry Gagosian
Douglas Crimp
Douglas Crimp
Douglas Crimp
Douglas Crimp is an American art history professor and art critic. Crimp started his art career in New York, working as a curatorial assistant at the Guggenheim Museum of Art. His work as an art critic can be found in publications such as Art News and October of which he was co-editor. Crimp has had a great influence on postmodern art theory, curating the notable Pictures exhibition, an introduction to the early works of the artists who came to be known as part of the Pictures Generation.
Douglas Crimp
Appropriation Art
Appropriation Art
Appropriation Art
Appropriation art adopts, borrows, recycles or samples aspects from visual culture. The term appropriation refers to the use of borrowed elements in the creation of a new work. Appropriation artists borrow ideas, images, objects, and elements from pop culture to create their art.
Appropriation Art
Kelley Walker
Kelley Walker
Kelley Walker
Kelley Walker is an American post-conceptual artist who uses advertising and digital media to make "paintings" using screen printing. His work appropriates iconic images, altering them to highlight underlying issues of American politics and consumerism.
Kelley Walker
Jack Goldstein
Jack Goldstein
Jack Goldstein
Jack Goldstein was a Canadian born, California-based performance and conceptual artist turned painter in the 1980s art boom. During the 1970s, he become one of the linchpins of the Pictures Group, which gained recognition at Artist's Space in New York City in the fall of 1977.
Jack Goldstein
Jerry Saltz
Jerry Saltz
Jerry Saltz
Jerry Saltz is an American art critic, currently working as the senior art critic for New York magazine.
Jerry Saltz
Jeff Koons
Jeff Koons
Jeff Koons
Jeff Koons is an American sculptor, painter and Neo-Pop artist, best known for mirror-finished stainless steel constructions of animals and everyday objects. Koons' works are often large public installations, in which viewers are invited to interact with his art.
TheArtStory: Jeff Koons
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