Richard Prince Gets The Joke

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The thing about writing on a Richard Prince show is that it doesn’t really matter, since he probably already hates me, or at the very least thinks people like me are goddamn idiots. What else to surmise from his recent hilarious blog-broadside against art journalists and magazines, a mountain of trash talk that attacks (“there’s no information worth reading on your stupid ass site”), Frieze (“I’m not sure if I’m looking at an ad or an article”—but Richard, that’s the point), and Art Review (“Your fucking [Power] list is moronic and embarrassing”)? This is a man who knows how to laugh, even in the face of lawsuits. This is a man who collaborated with AriZona Beverage Co. to make a self-branded Lemon Fizz sodaSomehow, in the orgy of cash and sensationalism that is the contemporary art world, Richard Prince manages to avoid the obnoxious gutter-depths that his star peers so eagerly swim in. (He’s not, for instance, installing fetal-development sculptures for the benefit of Qatar’s ruling elite. And if he did, it’d probably at least be interesting.)

Which brings us to the actual matter at hand, which is a new, non-selling exhibition of Prince’s “monochromatic joke paintings” made between 1987 and 1993, at Nahmad Contemporary through January 18. How are we supposed to judge works like these? As objects, they have a certain solid, imposing presence: tombstones of color, decorated with funny/corny/inexplicable puns (rendered in a font that I’m pretty sure is Helvetica, if anyone out there can confirm). Certain ones, like the diptych My Name, 1987 (“I never had a penny to my name / so I changed my name”) resemble a book, splayed open, enlarged, and hung from the wall.

My personal favorite is a two-canvas painting, probably the weirdest one in the bunch: The “joke” is laid out on the left panel, and accompanied by a sort of linguistic/performative interpretation on the right, as if we’re reading instructions coaching a stand-up in how to properly voice the pun.

For example:

Two girls meet on the beach at Miami. One says:

      ‘So what’s new?”

       The other says, ‘Wait’ll you hear! I was at the doctor’s this morning, he gives me an examination, and you know what he says? He says I’m gradually turning into a man.”

       “So what else is new?”

Followed by:

        These are Bronx-type girls. The “s’s” are sibilant, con-

        sonants very exaggerated. “Turning” is somewhere be-

        tween “toining” and “tuhning.” “Taining” is somewhere near

        it. She is “grad-you-al-ly- taining into a man,” and “man” is

        somewhat like “may-yun.” The girl who asks the questions

        has the same accent but she sounds bored with life.

Elsewhere the jokes are a bit harder to parse. Bonus points for whoever can explain this one in the comments: “Jewish man talking to his friend: If I live I’ll see you Tuesday, if I don’t I’ll see you Wednesday.”

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Images: Richard Prince: “Monochromatic Jokes,” installation view, 2013. Courtesy of Nahmad Contemporary, photo by Tom Powell