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Richard Prince, Untitled (cowboy), 1989
© Richard Prince


At the Guggenheim, the ascent of the rotunda begins with Prince's early advertising images photographed from fashion magazines, ads, and catalogues: a kind of visual vocabulary that arises in the juxtapositions of poses and perspectives. The photographs of luxury articles and high fashion models, arranged in series like film stills, give rise to mysterious mini-stories. Handbags photographed on a wooded ground and jewelry draped in tree branches allude to violent crime; dramatically lit living room furnishings look like the settings of TV crime shows. Slightly parted lips and arms raised suggestively behind the head make the models look like the protagonists of an opening sequence to a porno film. Yet it also becomes clear that contradictory messages lie concealed beneath these stereotyped visual signals.



Richard Prince, Untitled, 1988
© Richard Prince


During the super-egomaniacal, super-hedonist, super-materialist Reagan era, Prince directed his attention to the American dream of freedom and adventure. While the US was being governed by a Hollywood cowboy, Prince's Cowboys series depicted photographed images from the Marlboro campaign of the time: lonely riders and groups of men passing through magnificent landscapes beneath a bright blue Technicolor sky. He demonstrates the perfection and seductive power of these artificial idylls and hyper-masculine ad images as they satisfy both patriarchal and homoerotic fantasies at one and the same time.



Richard Prince, Unaware of Being Despair, 1994
© Richard Prince


In the '80s and '90s, camouflaged as a bad boy of the art scene, he developed a cynical, chauvinist repertoire. Cartoons and more or less witty men's jokes from magazines like Playboy and the New Yorker served as material for his Joke Paintings. In his White Paintings, he combined silkscreen and painting in almost Rauschenbergian manner. Prince samples newspaper images, caricatures, and puns into cool, apathetic arrangements of repetitive motifs or text and stereotypical images. Sometimes the joke fragments appear on a monochrome background; sometimes in Abstract Expressionist manner. Thus, the joke paintings made after 2000 resemble the paintings of Jasper Johns.


Richard Prince, Katie Holmes,
from the series all the best, 2000
Deutsche Bank Collection


And that's the amazing thing when you walk through Spiritual America: the sublimity that Prince's huge canvases actually project on the borderline between the profane and the holy, the banal and the meaningful that his works continually tread. Whether it's amateur photos of biker chicks in his Girlfriends series, autographs of Hollywood stars in snow-white passepartouts, or car radiators transformed into plastic sculptures-Prince employs surgical precision to produce relics that are both fetish-like and ripe for the museum. The eroticism conveyed by his clinically pristine works occurs in the mind, recalling the slogan Brooke Shields used in the '80s to advertise for Calvin Klein: "Nothing comes between me and my Calvins."


Richard Prince, Debutante Nurse, 2004
© Richard Prince




It's precisely this "nothing" between the image and its reproduction that Prince masterfully presents, and this not without humor. He leaves it up to the imagination of the viewer to decide if something is being veiled or revealed-whether it's a criticism or a homage. The masked nurses that Prince paints in his Nurses series after the cover motifs of pulp novels can be read both as metaphors for the oppression of women and as objects of desire for sexist male fantasies. This irony turns some critics off.


Richard Prince, Nurse of Greenmeadow, 2002
© Richard Prince




Thus, Peter Schjeldahl wrote in the New Yorker that "Prince's devotion to the put-on is among his bona fides in a generation-that of punk, deconstruction, and David Letterman-addicted to vertiginous irony: in-jokes with nothing in them. " In magazines such as Spiegel or New York' Time Out, he's chastised for acting like a rebel of cultural criticism while, as a darling of the art establishment, earning millions of dollars with his rather simple works. In the exhibition catalogue, the cult director John Waters, however, takes a contrary position: "When people have contempt for contemporary art-he's the example to use. They always say: 'Well, anybody can take a picture of a picture.' Yeah? Well, you didn't, stupid, and he did."

Translation: Andrea Scrima

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