Is It a Richard Prince or Not? Who Knows?

Richard Prince

When others’ Instagram images get sold for $90,000 a pop, people get really angry.

You’ve already heard about the recent controversies surrounding the Instagram images others have shot that have now been appropriated by renowned artist Richard Prince. “But those were MY photos!” screamed the Suicide Girls. So, where does this leave us Instagrammers? As what Richard Prince’s work typically does, it divided people’s opinions and raised a few eyebrows regarding the ethics of appropriating or stealing, whichever you prefer, for the sake of art and the copyright laws regarding our social sharing. I’m not going to go into my own opinion as I had written about it back when “New Portraits” premiered at the Gagosian Gallery but, while I’m at it, I present to you some images that may or may not be indeed one of Richard Prince’s works because by this point you’ve probably familiarized yourself with some of them. Or maybe you haven’t? What is mine? What is yours? What is his? Like, what is this? What is life?

Isn’t it so much fun to appropriate?

Richard Prince

Richard PrinceRichard PrinceRichard Prince

Richard Prince Isn’t a Thief — He’s a Genius

richard prince
People have been up in arms about artist Richard Prince screenshotting people’s posts on Instagram and selling them for upwards of $100,000 at Frieze. It sounds like a clear case of copyright infringement, right? Why should this guy be making so much money off of other people’s works? Because he’s a genius.


First off, this is Richard Prince’s metier; he’s been appropriating photographs, advertisements and other works since the ‘70s. It’s in a similar vein to Pop Artists purloining mass culture as subjects (Andy Warhol, Richard Hamilton) or other “rephotographers” like Barbara Kruger and Thomas Struth. Controversial, of course, but this kind of art has been around for a while. In fact there are whole books and anthologies written about appropriation and mass media from Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in The Age of Mechanical Reproduction to Whitechapel’s AppropriationLove it or hate it (and plenty of people hated Warhol’s soup cans) lots of scholars and artists find this type of work inspiring and valuable.    
Andy Warhol Campbell's Soup

When Warhol first displayed his paintings of Campbell’s soup cans to the public, people thought it was a joke. Now they’re proudly on display at MoMA. (Photo via

Also, Prince is within his rights to use these images. After a litigious battle between Prince and photographer Patrick Cariou that settled in 2014, the courts ultimately decided that some of Prince’s photographs of Cariou’s work were “transformative” enough to escape copyright laws. Basically, if you change enough of the original work (which, honestly, doesn’t have to be much of it) it’s fair use. Not to mention, we’re all embedding and regramming and sharing like crazy every day.
Regardless, who is he really hurting? Was someone going to sell that photo for $100K and now they can’t? Isn’t it more likely that the press they received from this incident will help them in the long run?
Thomas Struth

Many of Struth’s photographic work like this appropriate art and recontextualize it, especially with institutional critiques. (Photo via

Prince’s “New Portraits” is a brilliant critique of our social media-obsessed culture—it’s a commentary on the cheapening and devaluing of the photographic image in the context of the never ending visual streams (often extremely intimate or sexualized) that make up our daily lives. It’s an heuristic device that illuminates our voyeuristic culture and the question of how much authorship do we really ever have once we hit publish?


Good artists copy. Great artists screenshot.
Photo © Richard Prince. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery. Photography by Robert McKeever.


Who Are You Following, Richard Prince?

Main image via Gagosian Gallery

Seeing Richard Prince’s latest exhibition “New Portraits” makes you think about a lot of things: exposure, internet presence, identity, artistic ownership, and the ever so wicked six degrees of separation city kids experience when they drop names left and right at art gallery openings, fashion parties, and, yes, within their own Instagram accounts. 

As an appropriation artist, Richard Prince certainly knows how to reconfigure and distort, often manipulating what we feel and yet what see or maybe even who you know. As I spied all the canvased grams, the occasional music video star, downtown musician, or model blew up before my eyes magnified like I had never seen before (pixelated and massive). (I wonder what Kay Kasperhauser’s parents would think of that photo with her legs spread? Oh, well. It’s a Richard Prince show.) It’s the proportions (167 x 123.8 cm) of these ink jetted canvases that bewilder you as if blurry shrines have been constructed. 

Take a photo on your phone and where does it go? It either goes into your iCloud, your iPhoto, or your social media or, basically, the public realm. After that iCloud scare, perhaps people will start using it more just to get attention? Then, again, Andy Warhol couldn’t have been more politically correct when he prophesied that everyone (Gen X? Gen Y?) would be famous for fifteen minutes. What is fame, anyways?


A snapshot I took on my iPhone of RichardPrince4 snapshotting my own photo that I had taken here for Blackbook — You want a puff, Richard Prince?

I hadn’t had a clue of Richard’s exhibition until my own thirsty curiosity struck as fast as an Instagram notification. Wait, hold on. Richardprince4 liked my photo or wait- Hold on. Isn’t Richard Prince that one famous artist? I forget what pieces he’s done. Does that make me not in the scene? I know he’s famous but have I ever been to a Richard Prince exhibition? When fame merges with local celebrity, the end results typically create a conversation between the tastemakers and the “followers” (no pun intended). A debate has been created and, thus, Richard Prince you have succeeded. But what if someone took a photo of a photo and paradoxically curated a show of your life or just a mere image you wanted to project for others to see? Would that offend you? Or would you be flattered?

“New Portraits” makes me reminisce upon older times when texting became the norm for young 14 year olds circa 2006. It was the Motorola Razor that became a recurring object in every peer of mine’s hands and we were only in middle school. When a text arrived, you showed it to your friends. You were reading the text envisioning what consequences or imagery it may provoke. Fast forward to present day, iPhones are in the hands of younger children. For most young subjects Prince has portrayed, they too might remember when words were taken out of context and their middle school crushes demolished their feelings via text. Just think what we can do today with both word and image. I suppose press is press but just be careful what you post. You don’t want Instashame but, at the same time, most want Instafame.

Richard Prince’s “New Portraits,” on view at Gagosian Gallery, closes in about a week (October 25th). Go see it now, I urge you.

What a small world we live in…..


Richard Prince on ‘The Banal Zone,’ Why All Chinese Art ‘Sucks’

Richard Prince doesn’t pull any punches. Responding to the  Jomar Statkun show at Garis & Hahn Gallery (which this week features “The Banal Zone,” a selection of Prince appropriations produced by a Chinese painting factory), he tweeted: “Just found out The Banal Zone Paintings are from China. I get it now. Maybe Judge Batts will come down on China. Wild History.”

He later added: “Cariou should sue China.”

And then, really getting into the vitriolic swing of things: “Can’t stand Chinese contemporary art. Any of it. It sucks. It’s worst than what Philips flogs. Mao Say Shit” [sic.]

Get Ready For Endless Appropriation In The “Banal Zone”

Billed as a “show within a show” that’s part of his ongoing solo exhibition at Garis & Hahn Gallery, Jomar Statkun’s “Banal Zone” is composed of Chinese-made reproductions of Richard Prince’s legally controversial “Canal Zone” paintings. (Prince was sued by Patrick Cariou, whose photographs of Rastafarians provided the basis for the famous appropriation artist’s works. After some reversals, the law backed Prince up). I spoke with the artist about his appropriated appropriations, which are on view from tonight’s opening through February 16. The larger exhibition is on view through February 23. Yes, it’s complicated; here’s more info.

How do you think Richard Prince himself would feel about your appropriations of his appropriations?

I honestly don’t know. I mean, its nothing new really–appropriations of appropriations have been going on for a long time. My use of these appropriations is actually less about Prince’s work specifically, and more about looking at the different systems in place that go into the creation or fabrication of a “work of art”. Prince’s work from his particular show (“Canal Zone”) and its court case drama, with the focus on the image’s authorship, seemed to be the perfect body of work to use as an entry point for probing the side of the art world that relies on outsourcing work and that questions authorship over an image. In my show that’s up now at Garis & Hahn, the Richard Prince/Chinese Painters aspect is just a small theme, one of many underlying themes of the show. The backbone of the show starts with the 450 artworks present that I’ve made in the last 20 years, all on view and open to be examined and handled by the visitor. One overall question running throughout the show might be, How are artworks produced, and then how does the viewer engage with them?

Like Mr. Prince, could you ever see yourself collaborating with AriZona beverage company on your own fizzy drink? What flavor would you be?

I’m not much of a sugary fizzy drink drinker. But if I had to pick a flavor it might be like a Chicken Adobo-flavored juice.

You’ve worked at Gagosian, one of the art world’s most commerce-minded mega-stores. How did that experience affect your own practice?

For some reason, when folks ask me about my time working at Gagosian, I always think of the song “I See a Darkness” by Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy. It was a wild time, as far as the purely commercial side of art making. I maybe saw and heard way too much. On the upside, it certainly helped me ask myself “what is this all for?” and “what do artists (or anyone for that matter) want out of this thing called Art?” It’s a tricky and slippery question to ask. There are many many paths to take along an art-making journey, but I think the heavily commerce-minded one has been the dominant one for a quite a long time, and in numerous ways, it reeks of disfunction and greed, from both sides of the fence (the maker/seller and the buyer).

Do you feel an affinity with the school of artists who work under the banner of ‘institutional critique’? How difficult is it to comment on the machinations of the art world from within?

I don’t really feel an affinity with such a school, and I don’t know if many of those folks associated with it would either. I think such a critique is underneath all practices these days, whether its on the surface of the “presentation” and directly stated or whether it’s buried behind the artist’s decisions (even in a subconscious way). I kind of think that there’s no “outside” of the art world. First, I think there are many “Art Worlds”, or at least many variations of systems in place that make up all different art worlds. And as far as being difficult, yeah, it all can be difficult. The bigger mechanism in place that drives the “Art World” is a beast. However, I think artists, or any “makers”, can choose how they engage with it. They say, “don’t hate the player, hate the game”, but maybe its really more of the opposite.
In the 21st century, when so many artists rely on underpaid assistants to physically produce their work, how much does it really matter that you have had your Prince copies made by a Chinese art factory?

I think the idea of “underpaid” (at least globally) can be a complex one. I suppose it can be fairly relative to where, how, and who. For example, the use of assistants in the production of artwork in the United States–that can be compared to utilizing a painting reproduction factory in China, but it also varies greatly. Such jobs in China are considered good jobs, monetarily speaking. In the US, the salary for an artist’s assistant would probably be considered underpaying, but valuable as experience. That being said, my use of a painting reproduction factory in China to have copies made of Richard Prince’s works, for me, has served as an opportunity to examine authorship and copyright while at same time presenting a possible way to have a contemporary image “reproduced” inexpensively–in this case, a weird sort of “poor man’s Richard Prince painting”. (A smart phone with a camera, in an art gallery, can do wonders.)

Jomar Statkun’s eponymous solo exhibition is on view at Garis & Hahn Gallery through February 23. His “Banal Zone” paintings will be in the gallery through February 16, with a reception from 6-8pm on February 11.

Richard Prince Gets The Joke

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

Book It to The Hole

Who says print is dead? People are still using books to create intricately cut sculptures and staircases. Cats are reading them on the Internet. Richard Prince is still making paintings out of trashy ones, or ripping photos out of other people’s books and getting slammed, and then pardoned, for it. Websites are commissioning artists to reimagine their favorite book covers with gobs of paint and cut paper.

And until August 24 at the Hole’s “Summer Reading” exhibition, you can get your fill of art books—as in the actual, readable kind, the sort you conspicuously leave on your coffee table in order to impress OKCupid dates—as well as books turned into art pieces, and art pieces inspired by books. (This isn’t the first time the contemporary art world has thrown a group exhibition around the printed word—Petzel Gallery did it last year with “The Feverish Library.” You don’t see many shows glorifying the Kindle.) Here are a few of our favorite inclusions.
Andrew Kuo, Reading
Brian Dettmer, The Picture Bible
Simon Evans, Letter to the Future
Leo Fitzpatrick, Legends of Our Time
Shane Bradford, Beckett
Installation view of "Summer Reading" at The Hole