Richard Prince: The Joke Is In The ‘Re-telling’ At Sadie Coles HQ

Richard Prince

Sadie Coles HQ is currently presenting an oeuvre of twelve works by the great American appropriation artist Richard Prince. ‘Cartoon Over Cartoon’ is a reprisal of the artist’s preoccupation with jokes and cartoons, and shares a relationship with the artist’s ‘Hippie Drawings’ from the late eighties.

Prince’s practice is appropriation. As the inventor of Re-photography – a process of appropriating existing images often in advertising – the artist ‘Re-photographs’ the original image, and therefore re-contextualises it. This appropriation removes the image’s original associations. Prince ‘Re-creates’, and re-contextualises – the viewer follows a new secondary narrative, a falsehood; the artist’s work becomes a simulation of the primary narrative.

Image: Richard Prince, Free Love #213, 2015, detail, Cartoon Over Cartoon, Sadie Coles HQ. Photo: P A Black © 2016.

in this instance Prince employs collage and the recontextualisation of the cartoon. The artist has also spent a career appropriating text; this also includes the use of jokes and one-liners: according to Prince the art of the joke is in the ‘Re-telling’. These originals become the artist’s ‘proofs’; Prince’s works become the simulations of the artist being seduced by an original image. The primary seduction is rendered meaningless in its reproduction, forming works of hyperrealism; Prince loses us in a copy of a copy. The work is the artist’s version of Pop Art, taking images from popular culture and creating a form of simulacrum.

With these works the artist re-contextualises the one-liner, juxtaposing it with the bawdy cartoon nudes of John Dempsey; with Prince’s Re-photographed works from advertising, the artist ‘Re-cropped’ the images, subtly shifting their perspective, Prince also employs this method with his canvases. This recontextualisation and ‘surfacing’ with layers of mark-making partly obscures the ‘Re-cropped’ image serving to highlight its inauthenticity. There is an intentional disconnect between image and text: Prince obfuscates identity including his own as artist, he is not the author, but merely the ‘Re-teller’, shifting perspective and context; this shift is an act of alienation.

Image: Richard Prince, Free Love #213, 2015, detail, Cartoon Over Cartoon, Sadie Coles HQ. Photo: P A Black © 2016.

This ‘Re-telling’ of the joke juxtaposed with various salacious cartoons reduces the identity of the viewer/reader; the gag is not the artist’s, ‘the viewpoint is found, the voice on stage is not his own’. Dilemmas concerning the authenticity of the work are lost in this context; as the original appropriated image is in fact inauthentic. Prince brings a subjective truth, the original work is objectified, the original value is obfuscated along with its authorship, with this Prince creates a ‘non-position’, the authorial view his utterly subverted.

With the artist’s ‘Free Love’ series, the cartoon exemplifies a shallowness of meaning, a shifted perspective, the hollow tropes of popular culture. The nature of identity is generic, the decontextualised caricature is void. The artist’s authorial position is rendered mute, lost in a myriad of voices. This is an intentional act by Prince who has always obfuscated his own identity as ‘subjective artist’. Without the ambiguity of Prince’s authorial perspective we would know the position of the artist. Instead Prince is himself the seduced viewer, and ‘Re-viewer’. The artist attempts objectivity and a ‘non-position’ via a body of work that in the ‘Re-telling’ is intentionally self-conscious, nostalgic, and wryly humourous.

About the artist:

Richard Prince (born 1949) is an American painter and photographer. Prince began copying other photographer’s work in 1975. The artist’s appropriated image, Untitled (Cowboy), a ‘Re-photographing’ of a photograph taken originally by Sam Abell and appropriated from a cigarette advertisement, was sold at auction at Christie’s New York in 2005, the work was the first ‘Re-photograph’ to raise more than $1 million.

Lead image: Richard Prince, Cartoon Over Cartoon, installation view, Sadie Coles HQ. Photo: P A Black © 2016

Words: Paul Black. Images appropriated by P A Black © 2016

Richard Prince: Cartoon Over Cartoon – Sadie Coles HQ Kingly St London – until 18 June 2016


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