Prince among Men

Brian Droitcour at Guild Hall: “Richard Prince’s ‘Canal Zone’ got a death sentence for not being “transformative.”

Left: Artist Richard Prince. Right: Guild Hall executive director Ruth Appelhof with Alec Baldwin and Martha Stewart. (All photos: Patrick McMullan)

RICHARD PRINCE’S “CANAL ZONE” got a death sentence for not being “transformative.” Patrick Cariou, the photographer who sued the appropriation artist for copyright infringement, wants the works destroyed. While they continue to languish in a Long Island City warehouse, Prince is presenting a new series, “Covering Pollock,” at the island’s other end. The show opened last Friday in the lobby gallery of Guild Hall, on the occasion of the East Hampton cultural center’s annual benefit. Prince connected Jackson Pollock and friends with punks and marauders—Sid Vicious, Ian Curtis, a bare-breasted Kate Moss—as well as some midcentury porn that Pollock might have perused. (“He’s got a real sense of humor, that Richard!” a guest cackled.) In the cleverest piece, Gene Simmons’s painted face is tiled with shots of Pollock mixing paint, a foundation for streaks of white acrylic. Like most of Prince’s work, “Covering Pollock” is shot through with melancholy quiet; here, it’s the muting of a rebel’s voice after he goes pop. The series also scored points with locals for prominently featuring Pollock and Lee Krasner’s Hamptons home. “My friend works there,” I heard a woman say. “She teaches drip painting to the children.”

The opening was preceded by a parade of smooth-cheeked moms who exist for the society pages of Hamptons magazine. After the backdrop emblazoned with the Guild Hall logo collapsed on a Newsday photographer, guests were snapped amid trees and sky. (The banner was laid to the side. “Have people lie down on it,” the Newsday guy suggested when he finished cursing.) Shutters quickened at the arrival of Alec Baldwin, one of the benefit’s honorees. “He always comes to silent auctions and puts his name on everything,” a brassy stranger gossiped. “That’s what alcoholics do. They’re impulsive.” But Baldwin’s support of Guild Hall must be more measured than that. His name tops the donors’ plaque in the lobby. Martha Stewart, the evening’s other honoree, came a bit later. She wore a cardigan of bronze mail—a knight of Coldwater Creek. After exchanging warm greetings with Larry Gagosian, she gave the exhibition a long and attentive look. I asked her if she collected Prince. “No, but this is a very interesting body of work.”

“Have you been to the Pollock House?”

The curve of her smile as she nodded said it was a stupid question that she was thrilled to answer affirmatively. “And the movie was fantastic!”

Left: Guild Hall chairman Mickey Straus and artist Barbara Kruger. Right: Martha Stewart with dealer Larry Gagosian.

The gala proper was held down the road at the Gardiner Estate. As I approached the gates, a white BMW sedan cruised through, ignoring the security guards’ attempt to wave it down. “What chutzpah! What cheek!” a dowager with blue-veined temples exclaimed. “Irrepressible,” her escort agreed. The party in the backyard tent was DJ'd by Alexandra Richards, billed as “model and daughter of Keith Richards.” For all her downtown cred, her set never ventured beyond the genre of yacht club wedding reception. Jimmy Buffet would not have sounded out of place. On the tent’s back wall hung works donated for the benefit auction. Most of them were very nice: Clifford Ross’s photograph of big waves breaking on a Long Island beach, a figure study by Eric Fischl, another Barbara Kruger piece about shopping. Two works gave me pause. Both were commissioned portraits of children. One was a blonde girl whom Andres Serrano captured at her most distraught. The other, shot by William Wegman, was a husky boy in his Little League uniform, winding up for a pitch in front of a green screen, his face hidden behind his ball arm. I was curious to see how much the fat little stranger’s image would fetch at auction, but as the people who had actually paid to get in were seated for dinner, the rest of us were shooed away. And so I wandered back toward Newtown Lane: another lonely child of the Hamptons.