Richard Prince, Untitled #14, 1980-1984
Untitled #14, 1980-1984. Ektacolor photograph image: 27 3/4 x 40 in. (70.5 x 101.6 cm) sheet: 29 7/8 x 40 in. (75.9 x 101.6 cm) This work was executed in or prior to 1985 and predates the later edition (edition of two plus one artist's proof) from the Barbara Gladstone Gallery.Ο
PROVENANCE Baskerville & Watson Gallery, New York. R. Louis Bofferding Fine Art Management, New York Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1994
EXHIBITED New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Richard Prince, May 1 – July 12, 1992 (another example exhibited)
LITERATURE B. Wallis, Blasted Allegories: An Anthology of Writings by Contemporary Artists, New York, New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1987, cover illustration (another example illustrated) L. Phillips, Richard Prince, New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, 1992, pp. 101-103 (another example illustrated) B. Groys, C. Haenlein and N. Smolik, Richard Prince: Photographs 1977-1993, Hannover, 1994, p. 31 and cover illustration (another example illustrated) R. Brooks, Richard Prince, London: New York, 2003, p. 59 (another example illustrated) N. Spector, Richard Prince, New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 2007, p. 89 (another example illustrated)
PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF ROBERT LEHRMAN
When I first photographed an image I was simply trying to put something out there that was more natural looking than it was when I saw it as a photograph… I wanted a more genuine quality of the image and in order to get that and to return to what the image originally was, I decided to rework the photo the same way as it was first worked on… I did not consider myself as a photographer, I considered myself as an artist. RICHARD PRINCE (Richard Prince interviewed by Noemi Smolik, “But how real is my art, that is the question,” Richard Prince: Photographs 1977-1993, Hannover, 1994, p. 27). Untitled (Cowboy), 1980-1984, is among Richard Prince’s most iconic works as well as one of his most emblematic images. For his Cowboys series, conceived in the early 1980s, Prince appropriated images directly from the glossy Marlboro cigarette advertisements, then re-photographed, cropped and eliminated the text, which once summoned “Come to Marlboro Country.” Through this process, Prince undermines the supposed naturalness of the image, revealing the meanings engrained therein. Further intensifying their own artifice, this subtle act of re-photographing advertising images and presenting them as his own, initiates a new, critical approach to the production of art. As a response to American consumerism and identity, Prince’s Cowboys question notions of originality, authorship and the privileged status of the unique art object. “It is now widely accepted that Richard Prince was slightly in advance of several other artists in his use of this radical method of appropriation known as re-photography, and that he played a significant role in the development of a new, oppositional type of photographic practice, critically described as postmodernist. He was part of a generation that … used photographic procedures to simultaneously redefine photography and art.” (L. Phillips, Richard Prince, New York, 1992, p. 28). The photographic practice—from classic forerunners like Edward Steichen, Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, and Walker Evans, to exceptional revolutionaries like Man Ray, Paul Outerbridge and John Baldessari—has become one of the most critical mediums in contemporary American culture. With its everchanging technical parameters, the medium transcends any limitations once imposed by its two-dimensionality. Through this dual process of rephotographing, Prince not only revitalizes a populist image, but also resurrects the American cowboy from the prosaic to the extraordinary. Removed from his original advertising campaign, the lonely cowboy becomes a symbol of the American dream, one full of freedoms and pleasures. “The American cowboy of the mind is a romantic, monumental pulp-fiction figure… He is Alexander the Great in chaps and boots. He is colorful, masculine to the point of caricature, a license-plate emblem, a billboard, a restaurant chain, a figure of speech indicating rough fun or brash aggressiveness. Abroad he is the representation of America, so deeply is he embedded in our national character and ethos.” (A. Proulx, Richard Prince: Spiritual America, New York, 2007, p. 284). Functioning in the public imagination as a symbol of power, strength and masculinity, the cowboy is an icon of American sovereignty. The Marlboro men exemplify this archetype, amplified by backdrops that draw from the traditions of American landscape painting and the spectacle of Hollywood Westerns. In the background of the present lot, Untitled (Cowboy), 1980-1984, two enormous snowcapped mountains flank the central figure. While the rider’s scale is diminished by the magnanimous landscape, his galloping horse, shadowed face, and vibrant red shirt lend him a sense of power, bravery, and perseverance that challenge the sublime landscape. Unafraid of the capricious environment, the rolling hills, and impending nightfall, this cowboy rides on. “The cowboy is the most sacred and mask-like of cultural figures. In both a geographical and cultural sense, a cowboy is an image of endurance itself, a stereotypical symbol of American cinema. He is simultaneously the wanderer and the mythological symbol of social mobility. Even today, the image of the cowboy has not lost its luster.” (L. Phillips, Richard Prince, New York, 1992, p. 95). Prince offers varied perspectives of the cowboy in this renowned series; some of the images offer close-ups, while others, like the present lot, illustrate grand vistas of the American landscape. Through these varied pictures, a storyboard of the cowboy’s mysterious existence and thrilling narrative is tendered. As seen in a similar work, Untitled (Cowboy), 1980-1984, a detail of the cowboy’s weathered hand fills the composition. His skin is rough and blistered from the scorching desert through which he rides. And between his thick fingers, a lit cigarette burns. While in the present lot, no details of the cowboy’s identity or person are discernable, one can imagine that his hands and neck reveal the same toughened and masculine skin. The cowboy perseveres no matter his environment; his long journeys lead him through cold winter valleys and arid desert landscapes, all of which pose no match to his strength and fortitude. The dominance of the landscape in the present lot, Untitled (Cowboy), 1980-1984, alludes to both contemporary and historical American landscape painting. The Hudson River School of the Nineteenth Century captured the beautiful vistas of the Hudson River Valley with a romance that glorified and celebrated nature. The renowned painting The Rocky Mountains, Lander’s Peak, 1863, by Albert Bierstadt, depicts a panoramic view of the American frontier. Here, a lush green valley, cascading waterfall and snowcapped Rocky Mountains fill the composition. The prodigious mountains of Prince’s Untitled (Cowboy), 1980-1984, seem plucked from this celebrated painting, perhaps as homage to the great tradition of American Landscape painting. Further down the art historical landscape lie Ed Ruscha’s iconic paintings of enormous mountains graffitied with text. In Above All Else, 2000, two colossal alpine mountains appear. Shadows are cast over their plateaus from their unseen mountainous neighbors, and across the landscape “Above All Else” is scrawled in white script. The gallivanting cowboy in the present lot challenges Ruscha’s text, posing himself as an equal to the great landscape. While the Cowboys series is the body of work with which Prince is most commonly associated, it is that with the least personal intervention on his part. Other than some minor compositional adjustments, the images are almost perfect reproductions of the original Marlboro advertisements. Indeed, Prince only started re-photographing these advertising images after the marketing company had stopped using the Marlboro man in their pictures. As the artist himself recalls, “Without him as an identifying factor, it was easier to present these pictures as something other than they were. I think that’s the way I felt at the time anyway. Other than I was.” (L. Phillips, Richard Prince, New York, 1992, p. 95). From this, one might suppose that out of all of Prince’s works, the ones from this series are his own self-portrait, his mask. In other words, “as embodiments of untruth, they are the most truthful. Or, as Prince might say, they are the most ‘convincing’; picture-perfect dissimulations.” (L. Phillips, Richard Prince, New York, 1992, p. 95). Prince’s genius in his on-going Cowboys series, now more than thirty years in the making, is that he distills the historical conscience of America into its “most undeniable image of itself, and as such [it passes] through culture with no friction.” (R. Brooks. “A Prince of Light or Darkness?” Richard Prince, New York, 2003, p. 56).