New York

Richard Prince

Barbara Gladstone Gallery, Jay Gorney Modern Art

Two recent shows of painting, sculpture, and photography by Richard Prince afforded the opportunity to reflect on the fortunes of re- photography (the appropriationist strategy staked out by Prince in the late ’70s) as well as on the artist’s continuing fascination with the phantasmata of American mass culture–– what he once characterized as “social science fiction.” Prince showed only one photographic work––Untitled, 1989, the largest yet of his cowboy images, installed in Barbara Gladstone’s basement space—but this signature work provides conceptual clues to the joke paintings and, especially, to the new car-hood sculptures. By enlarging his photograph of the printed advertising image to a vast scale, Prince reveals the indeterminate, blurry texture of the original image’s grain; the close-up imprecision of detail creates an almost painterly effect of brushstrokes and pentimenti. Still mining the consciousness of popular culture, the artist increasingly alienates his work from its source by conscripting it to the media and presentation of high-art traditions. This procedure extends the gesture of transforming a magazine advertisement into an actual photograph and, as such, changes its reception and meaning.

The joke paintings at Jay Gorney rework familiar themes and motifs. Presenting textual material as large-scale, color-field painting, Prince interferes with the normative distinctions between the perception of words and images: how does the viewer “see” the joke and, conversely, “read” the painting? In other works, Prince pairs more New Yorkerish drawings with inapposite textual complements. The information which is seen and that which is read are plainly incompatible, foregrounding the aporias of textual and visual reading.

Prince exploits analogous meaning-estranging effects in his show of sculptures at Barbara Gladstone based on “muscle car” hood designs, such as those of Mustangs, Challengers, and Barracudas. Although these are bulky, wall-mounted sculptural pieces, Prince’s early re-photographic impulse continues to inform the work. The hoods are bought from after-market manufacturers advertising in the pages of hot-rod magazines. The hoods have already been designed, but they are then reworked—literally customized—by the artist. The process of customization of an existing design is comparable to that of editing in the re-photography of existing advertising imagery.

But just as the hoods persist in a kind of re-photographic mode, they are jokes, too. Prince borrows the stereotypical look and presentation of Minimalist sculpture and monochrome painting. The hoods partake of the privileged mythos (and pricey commodification) of those hallowed conventions and, at the same time, they travesty them; they infuse the abstracted forms not with the purist and materialist phenomenologies of nonrepresentation, but rather with more junk culture culled from biker, porno, and hot-rod magazines. The procedures and themes embodied by re-photography and the textual/imagistic joke are uncomfortably encoded within an esthetic tradition supposedly hostile to such vulgar extraneities. Mute and emblematic, the hoods are willfully, even perversely, suspended between a quintessential Modernist will-to-silence, the epitome of which might be the monochrome, and the inclusivity, garrulousness, and sensory glut of the pervasive Pop consciousness.

––David Rimanelli