Littered with old checks, used condom wrappers, and magazine cut-outs, the images from Richard Prince’s newest exhibition are like polished trash. Paying homage to Jackson Pollock, the famed appropriation artist has selected photographs of the painter at work and desecrated them. Prince replaces Pollock’s head with the likes of Kate Moss and Sid Vicious, obliterating the artist’s identity along with typical notions of authorship. Though these themes are familiar ones for Prince, this latest exhibition also reflects a more introspective turn for the artist.
Opening at the Guild Hall Museum in East Hampton on August 13, the exhibition consists of 27 photographs, paintings, and mixed-media compositions that communicate Prince’s ever-changing views of American heroism. Pollock, like James Dean and Buddy Holly, died at the top of his form. He has become a martyr of his craft, and Mr. Prince seeks to deconstruct this martyrdom. Early on in his career, Richard Prince made his love for Jackson Pollock well-publicized. He cited Pollock’s idiosyncratic way of living, his isolationist approach to life and art, and the untimely death that suddenly made him a star all as incredible influences on Mr. Prince’s work.
His images simultaneously function as tributes to the iconic artist and parodies of the figure of the American celebrity. The recipient of the 2009 Guild Hall Lifetime Achievement Award in the Visual Arts, Prince has, after all, never shied away from commenting upon aspects of Americana. He manipulates and ravages aspects of our national pop culture to the point where they become eerily recognizable – to him, we’re a country of pulp fiction nurses and burly cowboys. Pollock, Kate Moss, and Sid Vicious are simply extensions of these archetypes. They are household names for the digital era. From his infamous rephotographs to his Joke series, Mr. Prince has continually taken such derivative images as these and endowed them with his own stylistic finesse. He creates compositions that are by turns sordidly funny, playfully cynical, and irrepressibly dark.
Mr. Prince’s works are all exercises in the power, and the limits, of image quotation. His work inherently recognizes that all art has derivative foundations, that each vision is supplied and aided by the work of predecessors. Now, it is as if he has turned his eye on himself. He’s begun to make fun of his own artistic fetishes and inspirations, Pollock being chief amongst them. Mr. Prince does not simply parody what he sees America is. He pokes fun at his own wild, longstanding obsessions as an artist whose career is defined by borrowing.