Rephotographing the Underbelly of America

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Copyright, our system for protecting and encouraging creativity, has been described as 'the engine of free expression.' But copyright can also interfere with free speech, with the public's right to share, enjoy, criticize, parody, and build on the works of others. Resolving these sometimes conflicting claims requires policy makers, in the words of the Supreme Court, to strike a difficult balance' between rewarding creativity through the copyright system and 'society's competing interest int he free flow of ideas, information, and commerce.

I. Biography

  1. Born 1949 and grew up in suburban Boston.
  2. American painter and photographer. Most notably a pioneer of appropriation art providing sophisticated critiques of American consumer culture.
    1. He has also been deemed a collector, copyist, satirist. Grew to fame through his pioneering work in re-photography. Other re-photographers include Jeff Wall and Sherrie Levine. Like Marcel DuChamp, Prince uses manufactured items to upend standard definitions of art. 

    3. Started working at Time Life in 1973

                1. I was in the tear-sheets department. At the end of the day, all I was left with was the advertising images, and it became my subject. Pens, watches,                             models: it wasn't your typical subject matter for art. Then, in 1980 I started taking pictures of the cowboys. You don't see them out in public anymore.                         You can't ride down a highway and see them on a billboard. But at Time-Life, I was working with seven or eight magazines, and Marlboro had ads in                             almost all of them. Every week, I'd see one and be like, "Oh, that's mine. Thank you." It's sort of like beach combing.     

                2. Starting in 1977, Prince created controversy by re-photographing four photographs which previously appeared in the New York Times. 
    Untitled (living rooms), 1977
    set of 4 Ektacolor photographs, 51x61 cm each
           3. Prince notes that he  was trying to get at something he could not get at by creating his own images, comparing the effect to the funny way that                           "certain records sound better when someone on the radio station plays them, than when we're home alone and play the same records ourselves."             

                          1. Rephotography: in the process of rephotographing the artist often makes subtle but significant changes to the image through techniques liek                                      cropping, shooting, at an angle, and shifting color values.
                                           1. Less significant in digital age, but revolutionary in the late 70s.

           4. He has been likened to Michel Duchamp, Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol. Unlike Warhol, he is much less interested in the stars than in the audience. Like                 Walker Evans and Carson McCullers, he caters with the awareness of the common person.  (nytimes)

II. Appropriation

  1. "The material I appropriate is available to anyone who cares to use it.*The fact that the material has possibly been observed or unconsciously collected by person's other than myself, in effect defines its desires and threats. It's this 'prior availability' that verifies the fictional transformation and helps cool down any reference to an observable reality. *To de-referentialize the material is not to take it out of context. The great thing about an appropriation is that even though the transformation reads as fiction, everybody knows that the source of the appropriation was at some point non-fiction, (magazine, movie, etc.), and it's these sources, or elements of non-fiction, that gives the picture, no matter how questionable, its believable edge. Appropriation is a theoretical procedure, and like any other procedure, interesting only to a point." (Richard Prince:
  2. For Prince there is little separation between spending and creating, but while the grand scale of his collection is made possible only by the spectacular prices of his own art, Prince insists that commercial concerns never drive the work itself. (Vanity Fair)

III. Works

  1. Cowboys (Marlboro Men)
    Untitled (cowboy) 1999
    Ektacolor photograph
    61 x 32-1/2 inches
    1. Blown up to the size of an American landscape painting, Prince's Marlboro men have a granier, grittier quality. Rustic, American, up-close, perhaps even more authentic than a glossy 8x10 with direct intent to allure.
    2. Analysis: Commentary on American Culture. Authenticity? Aura?
    3. Legality Issues: Jim Krantz vs. Richard Prince


  1.         Untitled (cowboy) 1989
            Ektacolor photograph
            50 x 70 inches
                      1. Sold for a record-breaking $1.2 million at Christie's auction in NYC in 2005
                      2. Literally just a photograph of a cigarette ad without the text
    2. Spiritual America

    Spiritual America 1983
    (A photograph by Gary Gross by Richard Prince)
    Ektacolor photograph
    24x20 inches
  2. Originally taken of a 10-year old Brooke Shields by fashion photographer Gary Gross
  3. Legality: Prince's rephotograph stirred up legal issues with Shields' mother, and Gross.
  4. Analysis: American Culture. Sexuality. Gendered media.

3. Jokes!

  1. A series that provokes greater reflection on the nature of a society that finds this amusing.
  2. "I'd hit rock bottom," he says. "I'd been working 10 years and I still wasn't known. So I wrote a joke in pencil on a piece of paper, and I'd invite people over and ask them, 'Will you give me $10 for this?' I knew I was onto something---if someone else had done it I would have been jealous." (Prince on his conception of the Jokes Series)
    1. Examples:
      1. Abe Lincoln after a five day drunk woke up and said, 'I freed who?"
      2. Two cannibals were eating a clown when one turned to the other and said,"Does he taste funny to you?"
      3. A man goes to see a psychiatrist. The doctor says, "your crazy" So the man says, "I want a second opinion.""OK. You're ugly too!" 

          Cannibals and Clowns, 2000
          Acrylic on canvas
          96 x 144 inches

Fireman and the Drunk, 2001
Acrylic on gatorboard
40 x 60 inches
The Leopard Joke, 1989
Acrylic & silkscreen on canvas
116x96 inches
6. Rise in Popularity
    1. The art-buying public was slow to respond. "People would look at these things and say, 'Is this a joke?' 
    2. The joke paintings are especially popular---one sold last year for more than $700,000.
7. Analysis
    1. Importance of it being a series (not a single work)
    2. Role of the audience
        1. Commentary on our culture
    3. Appropriation in terms of jokes. Authorship? What jokes are open source?


4. Nurse Paintings
Danger Nurse at Work, 2002
Ink jet print and acrylic on canvas
93 x 56 inches

Surfing Nurse #2, 2003
Ink jet print and acrylic on canvas
78 1/4 x 91 inches

  1. Prince took 19 pulp romance novels featuring nurses on the cover and the title, digitally scanned them, enlarged them, and used an ink jet printer to print the scanned images on canvas. Following this, Prince used acrylic paint to obscure everything else on the book cover besides the title and the nurse herself. 
  2. Analysis: Significance of the nurse. Problems of authorship (implicates the author and the artist).
  3. Appropriation of appropriated?
    1.  Sonic Youth used Prince's "Sonic Nurse" on the cover of their 2004 album of the same name.

5. New Works: "Publicities"

Untitled (Publicity), 1999
Two publicity photographs
41 1/2 x 33 inches

  1. Collector vs. Artist
  2. 1999: "Prince began assembling what he called "Publicities," matted and framed celebrity head shots, posters, and other memorabilia grouped by subject (Lucy Lawless, Andy Warhol, and the Velvet Underground) or type (rockers, hunks, babes). They are just the sort of kitschy collections you might find in someone's rec room (and so tease highbrow art collecting). Prince reveals them to be holy relics of pop-culture America, talismans that can magically connect ordinary life to the glittering stars."
    1. 2. Features an Elizabeth Peyton piece: one of her canceled checks with a Sid Vicious drawing. And a Sonic Youth check with a signed drumhead. (nymag)
    2. This raises questions of arts vs. collection. Is appropriation art an oxymoron? How does this address problems of capitalism/status in terms of ability to appropriate/collect?


IV. Conclusion

  1. It would be strange for me to think I'm being ripped off, because that's what I do! In those days, it was called "pirating." Now they call it "sampling." There's a guy on the street who paints copies of my "Nurse" paintings, along with Elizabeth Peytons and Eric Fischls. I think it's funny. I actually bought one; I thought it was pretty close. (Richard Prince)
    1. Issues to consider:
      1. Sampling vs. Stealing
      2. Art as commentary vs. Art as aesthetic
      3. Does an artist need to like his/her own work?
      4. Why is the painting, sanding, and sculpting that goes into customizing cars simply body work, while the same labors applied to an abstract sculpture are called art? And why is one considered manly and the other effete?

V. Bibliography



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