Eva Presenhuber Gallery is delighted to announce the opening of Man, an exhibition of works by the artist Richard Prince, who was born in 1949 in the Panama Canal Zone and now resides in upstate New York. The exhibition will include a representative selection of the artist’s work dating from the 1970s to the present.
Prince’s work spans the entire spectrum of artistic media: he creates paintings, object art, drawings, photographs, and collages. Material from literary texts as well as cartoons and jokes also finds its way into Prince’s art, thus further allowing the artist to cross conventional borders. Both self-reflective and technically deft, Richard Prince is able to alternate between the mass media’s visual language and a language of high culture. The image of the American cowboy, the reproduction of male stars on magazine covers, the self-portrait of the artist, and the permutation of male-oriented jokes into a painterly form—all of these are focal points of the exhibition, which forms a contrast to the artist’s recent exhibit, Women, seen in Los Angeles in early 2004.
Since the early 1980s, the cowboy photo has been one of Prince’s preferred motifs, through which he hints at both collective visual myths and actual images depicting the culture of quotidian American life. At first glance, the photograph Untitled (Cowboy), 2001, appears to be a perfect copy of the Marlboro advertisement; however, closer inspection reveals clear aberrations within the familiar convention. The specific composition of the landscape, the sloping vantage point, and the particular positioning of a figure all contribute to effect an artistic reworking of a familiar motif: Prince’s images simultaneously play upon and break cliché. The handwriting of the artist pulls the images from their origin in the perfect and illusionary world of advertising, and creates peculiar, unusual accents. In so doing, Prince’s conceptual act has little in common with the affirmative attitude toward the world of commodity and consumption that Pop Art yielded.
Prince chooses as a central theme in his work the rapport between authenticity and originality, as well as that between reality and fiction. His works are frequently to be understood as “pictures of pictures,” which question reality as an ever-fixed notion. In his collections of cutouts from advertisements and glossy magazines, from photographs of anonymous rock groups who pose before the camera, and from autographed pictures of stars with imaginary signatures, the borders between fiction and nonfiction become ever more fluid. Because his photographs are based on readily available pictures, they pose the questions: what kind of reality is being captured here—original or artistic reproduction? And are the originals themselves fiction? Since the late 1980s, Prince has varied his artistic approach and places the photographs on tableaux together, as in Untitled (Publicity), 2002. Here, the artist reflects on the systematic interrelation of image materials, as one comes across them in newspapers and other mass media, and he thereby begins a recontextualization of the images.
In addition to the implementation of pictures from the American world of advertising, Prince examines in a further group of works the relationship between image and text. From the first pieces, which are based on cartoons from the New Yorker, later works develop that add a text to the facetious drawings, and frequently play upon the contrariness of pictorial and linguistic elements. The accustomed classification of image and text into an illustrative entity thus becomes paradoxically turned on its head, its meaning displaced. The conventional notion of the medium as an easily understandable narrative and a one-dimensional expression thus disappears. The often crude and frequently sexually-oriented jokes (“What is the difference between a penis and a bonus?” asks one text excerpt from Untitled [Character I], 2001/2) both plainly reveal and question their inherent societal conventions. Furthermore, the relationship between image and text is reversed when Prince presents words as a screenprint on canvas: just as the images are literally readable, so can words be perceived as pictures.
With “Cowboys,” “Stars,” and “Gangs” of anonymous rock groups and bawdy jokes, Prince aims less to a typology of diverse characteristics of masculinity than he does to point out, through series combinations and complex juxtapositions, how these images are constructed and how we deal with them today. Nowadays, pictures themselves appear more attractive than reality, and they tend to be centered upon notions of iconic wishes and yearnings of the present. In the tableaux, the attributes and stereotypical poses that repeatedly accompany these picture forms become visible, and in the juxtaposition of heroic productions with trivial, crass jokes, Prince intentionally thwarts spectacle and the construction of image.