Few artists' careers appear to be more disjunctive than Richard Prince's. He garnered his fame (either earned or overrated, depending on whom you talk to) as the '80s king of "Appropriation Art," a school of photographers who, simply put, championed ripping... [more]
Few artists' careers appear to be more disjunctive than Richard Prince's. He garnered his fame (either earned or overrated, depending on whom you talk to) as the '80s king of "Appropriation Art," a school of photographers who, simply put, championed ripping off intellectual property as a form of societal critique. Prince left no piece of Americana unturned: movies, advertisements, cartoons, and popular jokes were all grist for his irony mill. He utilized everything from skin flicks to comic strips, but his most memorable pieces were his reworkings of the Marlboro cowboy ads, conducted at length between 1980 and 1984. Prince merely rephotographed these ads without the text so that the pop icon cowboys, riding into the sunset with deadpan determination, become ridiculous symbols of American heroic mythologies. His work today, though totally different, is no less sardonic. In the mid-1990s, Prince relinquished photography in order to paint Abstract Expressionist works, many featuring circular forms that look like tangled balls of yarn. But beneath these forms are meticulously hand-applied sentences: "Do you know what it means to come home at night to a woman who'll give you a little love, a little affection, a little tenderness? It means your (sic) in the wrong house, that's what it means," reads 1996's "The Canal Zone II" (Prince, who works in New York, was born in the Panama Canal Zone). Below another: "I put an ad in a swingers magazine and my parents answered it." In another work, centered on the canvas in neat, rounded, perfectly spaced lettering (a departure from his usually messy scrawls), is this brutal inscription: "A man comes home and finds his best friend in bed with his wife. The man throws up his hands in disbelief and says, 'Hey Rick, I have to, but you too?" Of course, the combinations of text and images are jarring -- viewers relax into what they think will be a comfortable abstract dreamscape, and run face-to-face into adultery, abuse, and cynicism. Prince's self-proclaimed intent is simple: in today's incredibly fragmented and individualistic art world, he wishes to make paintings that leave nothing to interpretation. Whether or not we believe his stated intent, it seems apparent that his swirls of paint are simply another version of the Marlboro Man pieces, a critique of the meanings we take for granted.