Sunday, December 09, 2007

Richard Prince - Practicing Without a License

In 2005, a Richard Prince photograph of a Marlboro cigarettes advertisement was auctioned for over $1.2 million - a world record. He photographed the Marlboro ad without permission removing the identifying marks. In a 1977 essay, Prince proclaimed that he was "practicing without a license" - referring to his practice of stealing other people's pictures and publishing them as his own.

Prince is having a one-man show at the Guggenheim museum, titled "Spiritual America". The title of the show comes from disturbing nude photograph of a prepubescent Brooke Shields taken by photographer Gary Gross that Prince "rephotographed" and presented in a gilt frame in a gallery on the Lower East Side. The photograph is part of the Guggenheim show and reprinted in its catalog.

Prince likened his taking of others' photographs to sampling someone else's 8-track tape, he could manipulate his "8 -track photographs" in the following way:

1. the original copy
2. the rephotographed copy
3. the angled copy
4. the cropped copy
5. the focused copy
6. the out-of-focus copy
7. the black-and-white copy
8. the color copy

Prince's show is interesting, disturbing, and challenging. In Nancy Spector's catalog essay, she likens Prince's acts to the act of Marcel Duchamps submitting a urinal as part of an art show (Duchamps called this "readymade") - and this act is widely considered with opening up and introducing the art of the 20th century. Is Prince a Warholian or Duchampian genius - or a fraud? If auction prices, income, and museum shows are a measure - Prince is a genius of the highest order. He certainly has his critics, though.

As we move into a world where digital photography and sophisticated consumer-level photo retouching software is available, appropriating and manipulating images has become a widespread phenomenon. His appropriation may foreshadow the copyright battles of the future, and a weakening of the visual artist's copyright.

But as you go up the Guggenheim spiral, you will note less wholesale appropropriation, and more borrowing of bits and pieces. Once an artist is successful and no longer judgment proof . . . remaining an outlaw becomes problematic. His latest series consists of scanning faces from the works of De Kooning and sticking pornographic cut-outs onto the bodies.

Maybe we will all see "moral rights" in a different light after this show. See it and judge for yourself.

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