Cowboys, mountains and sunsets. Prince's artistic strategy of appropriating foreign pictorial worlds can be understood as the initial spark for a generation of artists that - in the early 1980s - made the artistic discourse regarding the questions of authorship and originality of the artwork the subject of their work.
Cowboys, mountains and sunsets
Monika Spruth and Philomene Magers are proud to present in their current exhibition works by Richard Prince from the last twenty years. Already in 1988, Richard Prince’s photographic works from the early 1980s were featured in the group exhibition “Das Licht von der anderen Seite II / Fotografie" at Galerie Monika Spruth.
The photographs from his Cowboys, Desert Islands, Gangs, and Upstate series along with the Tire planters sculptures represent important aspects of Prince’s artistic production since the early 1980s. Richard Prince’s work had a major impact on the concept of ‘appropriation art’. His artistic strategy of appropriating foreign pictorial worlds can be understood as the initial spark for a generation of artists that - in the early 1980s - made the artistic discourse regarding the questions of authorship and originality of the artwork the subject of their work.
In the late 1970s, Richard Prince moved to New York where he first worked for Time-Life. His job was to look through magazines and pass on the articles to the respective writers. Once the articles had been clipped from the various magazines the advertisement - the authorless material of the print media - would remain. This oft-quoted anecdote from the artist’s life points towards the fundamental structures of the work of Richard Prince: The accumulation of commercial images represented to him a hyperreal high-gloss world of perfect looking, luxury-consuming people.
Prince started appropriating these images of what he termed “social science fiction". With the camera, the “electronic scissors" (Prince), he selected areas without text and brought these (re-)photographs into the context of art. This simple act had great implications: Were these images originals? Were they even more authentic than the original? Who and where was the author? Where is the artistic invention, where is the artistic genius? The boundaries between reality and fiction, between ‘high’ and ‘low art’, between the mass-marketable iconography of advertisement and the original work of art are becoming blurred.
By appropriating these found worlds of images and presenting these photographs in series Prince exposes the myths of middle-class America while simultaneously showing the beholder how these myths are coded. Apart from images culled from the advertisement for luxury articles such as watches or cosmetics, Prince often employs the image of the cowboy from the Marlboro ads. With the works in this exhibition, Prince shows the vision of the ‘lonesome cowboy’ working hard in the big wide open and breath-taking landscapes of North America, taking in the raw beauty of nature - the dream of little boys and the yearning of men trapped in the drab routines of their everyday lives. The staged, gaudy pictures pretend to show the ‘real thing’, the real life, freed from the shackles of everyday life. The mass media generate reality.
Most of the Desert Islands - cartoons from daily newspapers - do not have a verifiable author, either. They too represent a found pictorial world which Prince incorporates into his work. Clipped cartoons are mounted on the fantastic paradisiacal backdrop that Prince has taken from various travel brochures, and this composition is then rephotographed. Prince creates layer upon layer of images, thus blurring the clearly defined lines of what defines a picture.
The cartoons deal with the stereotypical roles of men and women, taken to the extreme in the depicted situations: Either a couple or two men and a woman find themselves on a deserted island. The image of the perfect paradise in the background collides with the idea of being exiled into isolation, with the role clichés of men and women and with all the associated fears and desires. Prince touches upon desires and fears, upon myths and clichés, by combining found pictorial worlds and the process of rephotography.
In Gangs - a term referring to both the contact print and a subcultural group - the idea of seriality is taken to a new level. Prince blows up the contact print from the photo lab and the distance between the individual pictures is determined by the lab or by the frames of the slides. Here, not only is the form of the photographic work determined by the appropriation of found circumstances, but at the same time it is made evident how much reproduction itself contributes to the generation of stereotypes. Moreover, Prince recognizes the opportunity to create an additional image plane: “I realized I could have a whole show on one piece of paper, instead of nine or twelve pictures in one room, on different walls." (Prince)
With the Upstate series Prince is photographing experienced reality - his personal environment in Upstate New York. The photographs show his house, a basketball hoop standing in a field, or a tree with an old tire wrapped around it. By integrating these works in his exhibition, Prince merges the virtual world of advertisement or of the cartoons with the experienced world of the artist’s actual habitat. Then again, these photographs are also only pictures, or objects in their own right, that pretend to represent reality.
Opening reception: Saturday, November 4, 3-6 pm
Opening: Nov 4, 2006, 3- 6 pm
Monika Spruth Philomene Magers
Wormser Strasse 23 - Cologne
Gallery opening hours: Tuesday - Friday 10am - 1pm / 3 - 6pm, Saturday 11am - 4pm