Richard Prince



The American artist Richard Prince, born in the Panama Canal Zone in 1949, ranks among the most influential practitioners in the art world since the seventies. His broadly based oeuvre of photographs, paintings, objects, drawings, and fictional writing is a repository of appropriation and reproduction devoted to the visual imagery and collective myths in circulation in the Western world, specifically the American world of popular culture. Prince is best known for his photographed adaptations of familiar advertising images, as illustrated by his 'Cowboys' and pictures of 'Girlfriends' from motorcycle magazines.

In the mid-eighties, Richard Prince began working on another typological phenomenon of the social canon and collective ideas of normality, the joke, which has led to a prolific and significant body of painted work. The exhibition at the Kunsthalle Zürich presents the first institutional survey of the artist's painted oeuvre since 1985.

As an exemplary exponent of the first generation to grow up with the omnipresence of the mass media and consumerism, Richard Prince has set decisive standards in terms of our relationship to authenticity and the original, to collective and subjective identity, and also regarding the collage of the modern subject out of the untold public images of seduction and desire, fictions which are actually the facts of our reality, according to Prince. The artist has also set standards regarding the role of art as a parallel pictorial archive, as another 'Social Science Fiction,' which, in a kind of double somersault, may possibly lure facts into doing some thinking.

The collector Richard Prince takes personal possession of a general, publicly accessible repertoire. He collects pictures that uncover the interface between collective and subjective experience, revealing pictures in which identity, conventions and normality are shown to be abysses against a backdrop of commercial and conventional surfaces. Thus, Prince does not display the glamour of consumption as in Pop art, but rather produces images that disturbingly melt the myths of both high and low culture into a single subculture of faith in individual freedom and enlightened criticism.

Richard Prince pulls the imagery for his pop-culture photographs out of the anonymous acreage of advertising and magazines, while his 'painting' draws on the myths of high culture. Here, too, he exploits existing materials, appropriating jokes and cartoons largely created by writers and cartoonists of cult status for such cultivated playgrounds as the New Yorker, their trenchant humor vented on values which are in effect thereby consolidated. The jokes Prince has chosen are infected with a certain fustiness of social convention. They deal with the relations between the sexes and feed on mutual, ingrained prejudices. They ignore developments, on the march since the 1960s, like the sexual revolution or the emancipation of women and ethnic minorities, and expose still active or reactivated formulas of social reality in the mood of the mythological 'sell-by' dimensions of Western culture.

Prince uses the same phrases from his repertoire of 'punny' jokes over and over again in countless paintings, cunningly nabbed by the history of painting since the 1950s and transported to an equally fusty atmosphere. Barroom palaver from reproductions, jokes, headlines, yarns and painting… The joke, as the signature of the painter Richard Prince, signs the painting as joke.

Prince muses on tenacious social fictions, where change truly creeps in its petty pace, through serenely obsessive repetition and permutation of linguistic and visual materials. Depending on the collective determination of the present, as generally and directly expressed in advertising, the behavior of consumers, or in public communication, Prince chooses a suitable 'style' of painting. From the early, manually drawn cartoons, which toy not only with artistic authenticity but also with the contradictions of pictorial and textual information, the artist went on to make monochrome, silkscreened jokes couched in the visual vocabulary of abstract art; Combine Paintings reminiscent of Rauschenberg, with their seamless collage of the most varied genres; painterly expressive forms; Art Brut; and the abstract expressionism and formats of his most recent paintings.

Richard Prince also assigns objects to painting, which tie in with both his photographs of the fetishes of popular culture and his ceaseless exploration of the relationship between subjective and collective fictions: a case in point is the kitsch bourgeois creativity of flower planters made out of old truck tires or flip-flops, immortalised in polyester and placed on a pedestal. And the dream of car freaks to turn their vehicles into personalized eye-catchers is monumentalised by Prince in the customised hoods he buys from mail order catalogues and transforms into abstract pictures, into fetishes of modern art.