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Artists Richard Prince
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Richard Prince

American Painter, Photographer, and Sculptor

Movements and Styles: The Pictures Generation, Conceptual Art

Born: 1949 - Panama Canal Zone

Richard Prince Timeline

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

"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."

Richard Prince Signature

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.

Biography

Richard Prince Photo

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.

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Richard Prince Biography Continues

Important Art by Richard Prince

The below artworks are the most important by Richard Prince - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Spiritual America (1983)
Artwork Images

Spiritual America (1983)

Artwork description & Analysis: 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.

Chromogenic print - Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Untitled (Cowboy) (1989)
Artwork Images

Untitled (Cowboy) (1989)

Artwork description & Analysis: The Marlboro Man cowboy, emblem of Marlboro cigarettes, was both a stereotypical icon of the American West and a romanticized anachronism. Taken from 1950s advertisements, these photographs depict the stoic, lone hero, riding through an expansive and untamed landscape, his horse as his only companion. Relying heavily upon the American pop cultural phenomenon of John Wayne, Prince's cowboy series echo the pervasive interest in the mythologies of the American West which permeated television, film, music, and literature.

With the Marlboro Man, Prince singled out one of the most successful marketing campaigns and highlighted how effectively these generic messages suggested deeper levels of meaning. The Marlboro Man series of advertisements, which ran for nearly 40 years, had begun as an effort to rebrand Marlboro's filtered cigarettes (previously thought of as feminine), as a manly product. The cowboy, an icon layered with symbolism, idealism, and nostalgia, was an immediate success.

In rephotographing the original ads, removing the text, enlarging them nearly to life-size and reframing them as fine art, Prince forces the viewer to consider the images from a new perspective. Isolated as fine art, the viewer doesn't dismiss the construction of the image so readily; it becomes a text that demands confrontation, analysis, or contemplation. Prince's appropriation calls into question the authenticity of the Marlboro images and their subliminal messages. Removed from a popular context, the fantastical illusion of the rowdy and rugged cowboy as an American icon begins to crumble. This is not truly a cowboy in action, but merely an actor playing a part in a fantasy of American history; even after Marlboro began casting real cowboys and rodeo workers in their ads, these photographs were carefully staged and professionally directed. Although we see the rider set against a romantic sky, galloping across an endless expanse of wild terrain, he was posed by a commercial photographer to create a fiction, to sell a product. The success of the advertising campaign relies on the professional photographer's ability to play to the imagined ideal of the cowboy; the success of Prince's appropriation comes from the simple removal the cowboy from the slogans and logos and reveal how generic the image truly is.

The image is otherwise unaltered; the composition and execution of the original photograph is the work of an anonymous commercial artist; Prince only recontextualizes it through his appropriation. By selecting it, however, and framing it in this manner, Prince critiques both the trite nature of this advertising campaign and the viewer's unquestioning acceptance of the fantasy portrayed. His intentions are amplified by his many versions of this subject. Taken as a group, the cliches of the Marlboro Man become obvious, exposing the marketing strategies at work.

Ektacolor photograph - The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Man Crazy Nurse #3 (2003)
Artwork Images

Man Crazy Nurse #3 (2003)

Artwork description & Analysis: Prince's interest in cliches and stereotypes inspired his Nurse series, which he began in 2003. In appropriating the covers of 1950s pulp fiction novels, he explores the eroticized subject of the sexy nurse. He worked directly from the original sources, scanning the cover of the book, printing it on a large canvas, and then embellishing it with paint. The multi-stage process results in images that are both mass-produced and hand-rendered, manipulated through digital and analogue tools. While the subject is thoroughly popular, the painterliness reveals Prince's study of Abstract Expressionism; scholars have noted the blocky color fields of the background recall Mark Rothko, the dangerous woman and gestural marks suggest de Kooning.

In each image, Prince preserves the figure of the nurse, her face obscured by a surgeon's mask, and the title of the book, although he often manipulates the details, swaps titles, and changes the features of the women through his drippy application of paint. The repetitious nature of the paintings in this series captures the standard format of Prince's source material: a type of lowbrow popular novel, an escapist subgenre of inexpensive fiction. As literature, they were entirely forgettable, however, they were successful in promoting a popular cliche. Like his earlier Cowboy series, Prince leads his viewers to reconsider the images that permeate American visual culture. Isolated as art objects, the images require closer examination; it becomes immediately evident that these nurses are not really nurses, but constructed icons of stereotypical fantasies. They are even presented as labeled objects: Man Crazy Nurse, Surfer Nurse, Nympho Nurse, etc. While the original viewer readily accepted them and Prince's viewer easily recognizes them, they are merely another level of fiction. Yet, in this series, Prince is not directly critical of this cultural construct. His treatment of the surface, with its alluring palette and hand-brushed strokes of paint, implies a level of pleasure or celebration. He acts as a middleman between his audience and images of America's pop culture past.

Inkjet and synthetic polymer on canvas - Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

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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.
View Influences Chart

Artists

Jackson PollockJackson Pollock
Andy WarholAndy Warhol
Alfred StieglitzAlfred Stieglitz
Willem de KooningWillem de Kooning

Personal Contacts

Barbara GladstoneBarbara Gladstone
Larry GagosianLarry Gagosian
Douglas CrimpDouglas Crimp

Movements

Appropriation ArtAppropriation Art
Pop ArtPop Art
Beat GenerationBeat Generation

Influences on Artist
Richard Prince
Richard Prince
Years Worked: 1975 - Present
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Kelley WalkerKelley Walker
Cindy ShermanCindy Sherman
Sherrie LevineSherrie Levine
Jack GoldsteinJack Goldstein

Personal Contacts

Jerry SaltzJerry Saltz
Cindy ShermanCindy Sherman
Jeff KoonsJeff Koons
Damien HirstDamien Hirst

Movements

Appropriation ArtAppropriation Art
Young British ArtistsYoung British Artists

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 Recomended resource

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 Recomended resource

Artist official site

Richard Prince

Skarsted Gallery

Richard Prince

Gagosian Gallery

Richard Prince's Outside Streak Recomended resource

By Steven Daly
Venity Fair
December 2007

The Joker: Richard Prince at the Guggenheim Recomended resource

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, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Sarah Archino

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors
Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Sarah Archino
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