RICHARD PRINCE at the GUGGENHEIM MUSEUM by Emil Memon
Richard Prince one man show at Guggenheim is a massive affair. The show consists of different cycles of artists work, his famous cowboys, biker chicks, car hoods sculptures, nurse paintings,DeKooning paintings, check paintings, black and white; color paintings, celebrity publicity assemblages etc…. Walking up the spiral of Guggeneheim in a chronological order you immerse yourself into his world, which supposed to be a pure concentration of American pop culture.
From the huge amount of amassed work, the thing that mostly jumps out is the Cowboy series. This is Princes most successful and justifiable his most known work. The whole show has a very 80’s feel to it and this most powerful work , the Cowboys, are from that decade ( he produced more of them through the years). That was the time of Roland Reagan and his god morning America commercials. This was the beginning of America long slide to the hard political right. The symbology is obvious, Prince consciously wants his work to be obvious ,as a continuation of the Andy Warhol Pop ethos. Reagan a perfect cowboy ,directly from the Hollywood casting, riding to save America and the free world. This is the Marlborough man before the cancer. The intent was a creation of a pure piece of Pop art, interest he shared with his contemporary traveler Jeff Koons, who did the same with his Michael Jackson. This two man were chasing pop ideal ,with Jeff Koons being more successful at it.Warhols most simple one liners and appropriations standing next to this Cowboys are like Hamlet in his deepest angst. Road started with Braque’s and Piccassos’s cubist collages, Schwitzer’s train tickets, Duchamp’s urinal context shifting, Richard Hamilton’s arrested Mick Jagger and Warhol’s Marilyn nicely resolved themselves in this cropped Cowboys. The appropriation of these perfect manly man on horses from commercial photographs from glossy magazines are looking great. In full gallop with wast American western sky and landscape or in a contemplation with a horse, like characters in John Ford films, work well as the ultimate embodiment of American art. As it was the obviousness of its meaning when it was created , today meaning is as clear as the bell, with this current president, that is pointless to write about it and just that is were he is so successful and seductive. It is no wonder that this work is a main staple in NYC auction houses, catching for a photograph in edition way over a million, because in its pure formal and visual perfection and in it’s emptiness was able to transcend some commercial aspects of Warhol’s work.
Another interesting element of this work is the appropriation as a central practice in art making in contemporary art and the issue of copyright, as is being applied today to every single thing. From Dada or Surrealists collages on, artist were using visual material from their soraunding ominous as a source material for their work, commenting on the society. Today, especially with the advent of digital technology and the web, the source material is like a constant mental flow, our media immersed life make the need for the artist to reach and grab from this stream of data and images a necessity. The fact that every single thing today is copyrighted and owed, mostly by large corporations, that you must clear and pay for it to get a permission for the use in art making, cuts into the heart of art production by paralyzing it. Apart of making art creation costly , it is being used to censure and to force artists to self-censure , because you’ll never know when you’ll lend in-front of a judge (Jeff Koons is a god example of this, there were more ominous than this one). This Marlborough man bring as back in time, that appropriating an image from your surrounding for your art, to be illegal would sound crazy.
As are this Cowboys sharp and great work, unfortunately the rest of the show dasn't hold to Princes own standard set in them. There are still his well known ”Americana art” ( it definitely influenced many artists of younger generation) “Girlfriends” series of Biker chicks that still hold their ground, but everything after that, especially paintings are less interesting. References and style of the work, it’s like taking a walk in mid eighties trough Leo Castelli gallery, from 80’s Jasper John's and Warhol's work all the way to Donald Judd's. You can see what was in the mix at that time, including text based works of Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer. The tone of the language in its exclamation of truths is similar, except the politics of the text. While Barba Kruger and Jenny Holzer are dealing with politics of gender, race and class his text is opposite in it’s machismo and a bit of misogyny, I guess wanting to be a bad boy.
If the Guggenheim would dedicated only one room to his Cowboys and few other pieces, it could be a great show.