Richard Prince: New Portraits – Gagosian Gallery – The Great Baudrillardian Joke

Richard Prince

Provocative ‘selfies’ and pseudo-glamour shots decorate the walls of Gagosian Davies Street – taken directly from other peoples Instagram accounts by the master of Appropriation Art himself – Richard Prince. The artist has again been raiding Instagram for images of the largely unknown, with a series of ‘New Portraits,’ which has also included celebrities, models, and other individuals, for the artist’s latest oeuvre.

The exhibition at Gagosian presents ten new works from the series. This particular selection is slightly tamer than previous entrants to the oeuvre, with a more gender-balanced version of the series than Gagosian Gallery exhibited at Frieze New York in May, where many of Prince’s appropriations were pulled from the Instagram account of SuicideGirls, who are a group of alternative pin-up models and burlesque performers.

This reminds us that the mainstay of Prince’s work has long been appropriation. The artist even invented his own conceptual process as the inventor of ‘Re- photography’; Prince would appropriate existing images—often from advertising—and in doing so would re-contextualise them by Re-photographing the initial image, then subtly re-cropping the work – a practice that would shift the viewers perspective.

With this current body of work Prince uses a principle of dislocation that is apt in the context of the social media age: with the appropriation of these Instagram images the artist adds his own fictional social media comments below each image. Prince then takes a screenshot of the photo, and blows it up to fit a large canvas, an act similar to the artist’s Re-photography and re-cropping, generating a ‘new’ work of art. In doing so Prince destroys the original associations of the image; the emptiness of the subjective social media selfie – yet another form of consumer image, or is that self-consuming image? – becomes even more detached from its initial reality and identity.

This is Prince’s digital-era Re-photography. The analogue of the advertising billboard is in the past, the self-referential subjectivity of social media is the new Marlborough ad. The artist creates his latest body of work with his usual minimal investment – a familiar act from Prince – the appropriation of the Instagram post is an instant re-creation and re-contextualisation. The addition of fictional commentary including posts from ‘richardprince1234’ invests the images with false meaning, at the same time as identifying the work as ‘belonging’ to the artist, or at least belonging to ‘someone’ by the name of ‘richardprince1234’.

The artist has always shunned the stance of cool post-modern irony, the singular authorial position held by other artists was never one for Prince, who instead created multiple positions present in his ‘re-authorship’ of images and the artist’s ‘non-position’ in terms of being in anyway a subjective identity in his own work. Prince rendered multiple authorial positions, his ‘individual perspective’ never revealed. But here in this body of work we have ‘richardprince1234’; the artist appears to give the viewer a singular perspective on the images. Prince’s position seems known, although still distanced via technology and veiled in the objectivity of meaningless dialogue.

Prince’s seeming re-introduction of his subjective ‘artist’s self’ into his appropriations is a misnomer. In reality the impartiality of the artist’s multiple positions is retained through the simulacrum of a social media identity. In fact the artist’s Baudrillardian stance has never been stronger.

With Baudrillard’s position that mass media had neutralised reality in a series of stages, at first reflecting, then masking, and finally substituting itself for reality; Prince’s art has always been a Baudrillardian affirmation of a simulated America – and now the globe – the Instagram copy becomes simulacrum as the initial Instagramer’s identity is masked through re-contextualisation – and the stolen selfie reflects a reflection.

But the artist doesn’t need to substitute reality with his art. In fact the Instagram appropriations are not a Baudrillardian substitution, but the Re-photography of a previous Baudrillardian substitution: that of reality, via our decision to express our identities through the technology of social media. Mass media substituted itself for reality at our own behest.

Prince has not brought this prophecy to fruition – we did it ourselves – and like any good artist Prince reflects it.

With this current work of appropriation the artist’s act is not one solitary authorial moment, and Prince’s ‘non-identity’, and ‘non- authorial position’ remains intact – but now reality is no longer the Re-photograph of a Marlborough Man on horseback – now identity is the act of a viral substitution, the epitome of the multiple authorial identity, and as Prince points out: the artist isn’t doing it – we are – and that is the perfect Richard Prince aesthetic.

Words: Paul Black, image: © Richard Prince appropriated by P A Black © Artlyst 2015

Richard Prince: New Portraits – Gagosian Gallery – until 1 August, 2015


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