In Untitled (Upstate), executed in 2007, Richard Prince presents the viewer with a strange union of leisure-related objects that appears at once comical and somehow forlorn. The pairing appears impractical: after all, surely the food would be damaged by the flying balls of a real-life incarnation of this union? While clearly filled with Surrealistic characteristics, this sculpture also appears to be a wry reference to the celebrated Equilibrium series of Prince's fellow artist Jeff Koons, and indeed to the strange combinations of objects in his later Popeye sculptures.
Nothing in the world of Prince is ever quite as it seems. Untitled (Upstate) is in fact very much rooted in the real world - despite its Surrealistic inclinations -- and indeed, in the world of the artist himself. For it is based on a series of photographs from 1995-1999 that depicted the sparsely-populated area in Upstate New York, near Second House, documented from a deliberately Princeian deadpan perspective. Second House was an installation which consisted of an abandoned hunting lodge in Rensselaerville in Upstate New York. Filled with various works and other objects found and appropriated by Prince himself, Second House was recently acquired by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. Alison Gingeras tellingly referred to it as a "white-trash Marfa" (A. Gingeras, quoted in J. Bankowsky, "Ciao Rensselaerville," N. Spector, ed., Richard Prince, exh. cat., New York, 2007, p. 340). In the Upstate photographs, the ever-inscrutable arch-appropriator, Prince, has turned his own lens onto the countryside around him, rather than taking other people's images and co-opting them to his own purposes. In Untitled (Upstate), though, he has appropriated his own picture of the basketball hoop and picnic table, transforming that unlikely image into something even more unlikely: a bronze sculpture immortalizing this strange sight.
Was this hoop-and-table combo itself the result of an appropriation by the unseen local inhabitants, with the table merely serving as an ad hoc support for the hoop? In his photographs of the area, the basketball hoop is a recurring motif, invoking a sense of play that is punctured by the deserted surroundings, introducing an air of abandonment and despondency. Is Prince participating in social critique, charting the gradual wilting away of this area's populace? Is Untitled (Upstate) a monument to these economic victims or merely a byproduct of their lifestyles? Like the decaying cars that litter Rensselaerville and its environs, this sculpture carries overtones of idleness, decrepitude and despair. Taking this seemingly inconsequential fragment of reality as his starting-point, Prince has created a dizzying number of somersault-like artistic transformations and implications that result in Untitled (Upstate) functioning on a range of levels. It questions the nature of art and representation, criticizes the socio-economic situation in Rensselaerville, and acts as an entertainingly futile combination, a comical contemporary chimera.