Richard Prince-A Study in Refuse
April 29, 2013
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Let’s face it: Richard Prince is a joke. He may be incredibly wealthy and atop the summit of the New York Art world since the late 1970’s, but regardless it doesn’t make him any less only a clever impersonation of an artist. Appropriation is long established. The “singular” or “unique artistic genius” declared a dead and naive idea by the tenets of a four decades-old Postmodernist philosophy. There are historical precedents of appropriation of course from Picasso’s depiction of African masks during Cubism, to Dada, to the avant garde assemblage artists of the 1960’s (Rauschenberg, you sultry reconstructor of the turbulent aesthetic of mass media, you) and beyond. These were artists that understood the power of re-contextualizing found pictures and did so with a formal or narrative bravado that significantly changed the outcome of the work and often visually dissected it into new and all but unrecognizable relationships to their former existence.
That said, are we any better off for the Richard Princes, Sherrie Levines, Richard Pettibones or any of the other Duchampian imposters that have usurped the heraldry of the art history canon for their own financial gains? No, we are not, and if you argue that we are, under the guise of freedom of expression, deconstruction or other revisionist histories of the art of the past, then frankly my friends (?) you are fooling yourselves. This is mere intellectual masturbation run rampant in a hyper pseudo-philosophical approach to art-making. The recent reversal by an appeals court of the March 2011 US District Judge Deborah A. Batts’ decision that Prince had violated fair use in his appropriation of Patrick Cariou’s “Rasta” photographs is a sad day for the legitimate practitioners of le monde d’art. Prince has gotten away with ripping off Jim Krantz, biker magazines, pulp fiction cover artists and the true image-makers of the world for far too long, and the earlier decision that he would have to return his Gagosian gallery catalogs, previously sold works and pay remuneration to Cariou was just desserts. The more recent ruling is really a testament to the legal swagger of Mr. “If I weren’t doing this I’d be in real estate” Larry Gagosian and his proliferation of garbage art that he has routinely championed. I would choose to be crushed by the fearsome wave of this lowest of cultural artifacting and conceptual gamesmanship rather than be subsumed and sweapt away by its rancid tide of cheeky, chortling entrepreneurs.
(Left: Patrick Cariou: from “Yes Rasta”/Right: Richard Prince from “Canal Zone”)