The world is filled to suffocating. Man has placed his token on every stone. Every word, every image, is leased and mortgaged.

Sherry Levine
Style, March, 1982

 

Richard Prince, along with Sherry Levine, Barbara Kruger and other appropriation artists, extracts images made by others and places them in a new context, often a context designed to reflect upon or criticize the original use and value of the image. They are part of a generation of artists, called the Pictures Generation by Douglas Eklund of the Metropolitan Museum, who grew up amid an ocean of media images promoting materialism and consumerism, and who at the same time were reading the first translations of the works of contemporary French philosophers Michel Foucault and Roland Barthes. Particularly relevant is Barthes’ 1967 essay “The Death of the Author,” in which he argued that no text or image could be the creation of a single voice, but rather was a joint product of thousands of other earlier references and allusions. The appropriationists thus question fundamental notions of originality and ownership.

Artists Space, a gallery in Manhattan, was a crucible for this movement, and it was here that Prince had his first solo show in 1980. Upon moving to New York he took a job at Time-Life publishing where he clipped advertisements in order to certify to advertisers that they actually appeared in a Time-Life magazine, and  from this endeavor he noticed that the ads, decontextualized, provided a unique insight into American consumer culture. He appropriated the images, rearranged them into collages with themes like sex, drugs, rock & roll, cowboys, alcoholism, and movies, and embarked on a career as an artist. He would eventually make paintings, photographs, books, drawings, and undertake installations.

Prince’s books appear to be largely random in their organization. Johanna Drucker, in The Century of Artists’ Books, characterizes Prince’s work as “completely affectless,” meaning with the least possible intervention by the maker:  “[t]his is almost an anti-book, an attempt to negate the structuring principles of sequence, relation, flow and event . . . .” Whether random, affectless, sequenced or not, Prince’s books are ordinary bound codices, and the order of presentation has been determined by him and in the final analysis is subject to the viewer’s interpretation and, not infrequently, criticism.

Prince had a major retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1992, and has had one-man shows at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, and others.

 

Books with Richard Prince available from Boreas Fine Art:

Prince, Richard.  Inside World.  New York: Kent Fine Art and Thea Westriech. 1989.

Prince, Richard.  Menthol Pictures.  Buffalo: CEPA Gallery.  1980.

Menthol Wars.  [ New York: ] Printed Matter.  1980.

War Pictures.  [ New York: ] Artists Space. 1980..

 

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