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Review of Richard Prince’s New Portraits

by Meghan Hogan

Richard Prince has made a career out of other people’s art. From his cowboy ‘rephotographs’ to his nurse paintings, almost all of his better-known work draws heavily from work created by others. Prince, in the past, has collected images from advertisements, book covers, and magazines to create his art, and now, at the Gagosian Gallery, he has added a new medium: instagram. In New Portraits, Prince finds portraits from instagram (with subjects ranging from celebrities to total strangers) and creates inkjet images of them on 65 ¾ by 48 ¾ inch canvasses after adding a comment from his own instagram account, RichardPrince4.

For the better part of the history of art, the female body has been the property of males. Painted by and for men, women themselves had little ownership in the representation of themselves. With the rise of media like instagram, anyone has the power to display their own body the way they chose. Subsequently, New Portraits features heavily semi-naked women. Prince and the female body have had somewhat of a problematic past.  In fact, his photograph Spiritual America, which is actually a rephotograph of a photo by Gary Gross, which pictures a naked, 10-year-old Brooke Shields, got him temporarily kicked off instagram. Many critics and artists have condemned him as a blatant misogynist, but it is never Prince who actually creates the problematic images; he only uses them. In the cases of pieces like Spiritual America, Prince comes off as critical of the original artists instead of exploitative of the subjects. In the case of New Portraits, however, it is different. Where does Prince stand in comparison to the people who created these salacious images when the creators are the subjects themselves?  Is he critiquing the artists even though they took photos of themselves or his he co-opting their portraits, forcing their bodies back into male dominance as he puts them on his canvas as his own creation, under his name?

To get an answer, the best place to look would be, you guessed it, instagram. In response to the show, many people who were featured in it, in a very Meta move, took pictures of themselves with their pictures. It would appear that most people in the show feel celebrated, rather than oppressed. Art has imitated life has imitated art, and it is still being documented! If you look at Richard Prince’s instagram today he is still posting other peoples pictures with his comments as his pictures. He even posted a picture with a comment from an angry viewer calling him “a thief and a con artist.” On his twitter, he tweeted pictures of topless women at his show, saying he had never had a crowd like this.

Though New Portraits may seem to poke fun at a vain, vapid, art form taking over the world, it also holds a certain reverence for the accessibility and honesty that instagram provides. New Portraits is an appropriate appropriation for modern times. Merging digital and physical, public and private, creation and theft, it might be a joke, but it’s one we can all feel in on.

nightcoregirlBrooke Sheilds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

********************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************* by Connor Marley ’15

Richard Prince’s newest exhibition featuring thirty-eight inkjet-printed canvases of appropriated Instagrams  at the Gagosian Gallery on Madison Avenue in October 2014. The show, titled New Portraits, is not unlike Prince’s past work and yet it shows that at the age of 65, Prince is not afraid of incorporating digital media into his art. The series of prints are all images that Prince has appropriated from the popular social networking app, Instagram, and showcases a wide range of portraits. The people shown in the prints include well-known celebrities like Kate Moss, artists such as Laurie Simmons, as well as many Instagrammers who are relatively unknown. Although the show is quite casual and the works are priced much lower than most of Prince’s past work, New Portraits can provide older viewers with a blown up glimpse into the social media realm and younger audiences with an exaggerated reflection of their everyday practices.

Even though Prince’s New Portraits were clearly identifiable as images taken from Instagram, no one has actually seen images like these before because they have undergone an array of transformations since being selected by Prince. A phone screen only has a few inches of surface area while Prince’s appropriated images have been printed at a scale of roughly 4 by 6 feet. Our eyes are also accustomed to seeing these images on a backlit, glass surface on a seemingly endless scroll controlled by our fingers. Prince’s images on the other hand are lit by gallery lighting and are completely stationary. The fact that images are now on a wall hanging at about eye level with their audience gives them more authority and less manipulability than the hand-held originals. This loss of control is also reflected in the comments sections of the prints. While Instagram users are usually free to add any comment to an image, most of these Instagrams have had all but Prince’s comments removed giving @richardprince4 the final word on these Instagrams.

Whether it was by coincidence or not, by choosing to exhibit his New Portraits at the same time as the hugely popular Jeff Koon’s retrospective, Prince appears more relevant and in touch with the Millennial Generation using image appropriation in a more modern context than Koons has. As Peter Schjeldahl states in his New Yorker review of Prince’s show, the use of images curated from Instagram feels “fated”.[1] I completely agree that social media networks like Instagram make image appropriation easier than ever and it was only a matter of time before an artist used Instagram as material for art creation.  The screenshot function on the iPhone allows users to capture any image on their screen whether they have the right to download the image or not. In fact, some of the images that Prince selected had already been appropriated before he chose them, for example pictures posted by the users @katemossofficialpage and @katem0ss.

Copyright issues are surely expected when someone begins selling appropriated images under his own name and this is definitely not the first time Prince has been critiqued for using the work of others. It is too easy to write off the prints in the show as cheap screenshots however. Unlike the appropriated advertisements in the Koons retrospective that were just enlarged and printed advertisements, Prince has interacted with each of his selected images by incorporating his own small commentary in each print.

At first the images from Instagram may seem funny to younger visitors or confusing to Prince’s older fans, but they reveal characteristics of modern society that many people may choose to ignore or downplay.  The images that Prince selected for his New Portraits reflect a society obsessed with appearance and self-presentation in social media. These images also perfectly exemplify how the pictures we post online can be seen and possessed by anyone. Some of Prince’s comments may seem perverted[2], but in reality thousands of comments like his are posted on pictures everyday and yet people continue to tolerate it. I am sure all visitors, both old and young, are aware of these cultural trends before they enter the exhibition, but because vanity, narcissism, perversion and Internet obsession are not typically viewed as favorable traits, they are usually denied or not taken very seriously. Although I cannot rationalize the $40,000 price tag on printed screen shots, I appreciate that Prince’s New Portraits can expose these very real cultural phenomena in an artistic way that is also fun and casual.

Works Cited
Jerry Saltz, “Richard Prince’s Instagram Paintings Are Genius
Trolling,”Vulture.com, September 23, 2014
Peter Schjeldahl, “Richard Prince’s Instagrams,” New Yorker, September 30,
2014.
[1]Peter Schjeldahl, “Richard Prince’s Instagrams,” New Yorker, September 30,
2014.
[2]Jerry Saltz, “Richard Prince’s Instagram Paintings Are Genius Trolling,”Vulture.com, September 23, 2014

 

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http://www.newyorker.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Schjeldahl-Prince-Instagram-1-690.jpg