With its smooth, sleek and curvaceous contours, the flowing form of Richard Prince's Untitled (SB Hood #1) is a striking example of one of the artist's most enduring motifs - the American automobile. In this early example of his largescale car sculptures, Prince places the object on a large wooden plinth, fetishizing it while also decontextualising it: he has transformed it from an everyday car part into an object of high art, one that investigates the true nature of American popular culture. He is placing American manufacturing on a secular altar, an ironic maneuver that recalls Marcel Duchamp's trailblazing submission of a urinal to The Society of Independant Artists exhibition in New York in 1917. Along with Prince's images of cowboys and bikers, the car has become one of the central themes in his work as he examines the nature of popular iconography and the blurred lines between nostalgia and subversion.
Inspired by a trip to Los Angeles in 1987, Prince takes the molds of cars he has always admired - Mustangs, Challengers, Chargers, all masculine über-American models - and paints them, celebrating the sculptural qualities of the vehicles while wryly proclaiming his own sculptural prowess. The chauvinism, power and naked machismo of the car and what it represents all appeal to Prince, who has consistently probed the ubiquity of these characteristics in American culture, be it in the pictures by the beer-guzzling, fist-swinging Abstract Expressionists in the museums or in the road movies in the cinemas. 'It was the perfect thing to paint,' he said. 'Great size. Great subtext. Great reality. Great thing that actually got painted out there, out there in real life. I mean I didn't have to make this shit up. It was there. Teenagers knew it. It got 'teen-aged.' Primed. Flaked. Stripped. Bondo-ed. Lacquered. Nine coats. Sprayed. Numbered. Advertised on. Raced. Fucking Steve McQueened' (R. Prince, quoted in R. Brooks, J. Rian and L. Sante (eds.), 'In the Picture: Jeff Rian in conversation with Richard Prince,' Richard Prince, London 2003, p. 23). Prince's love affair with the car came to its height at Frieze Art Projects in 2007 when he provocatively produced a life-scale working model of a 1970s Dodge Challenger complete with a scantily-clad female 'car-show' model and continued with the artist's Spiritual America retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim in New York that same year.
For Prince, the car has become the symbol of all that is good and - crucially - bad in American Post-War culture. From its presence in the classics of American literature such as Jack Kerouac's On the Road (first editions of which Prince collects obsessively) to its leading role in forging America's dominant industrial might, the car is the one object that helped America to define what it is today. Just as the cowboy came to define the spirit of America's past, the car has come to express the spirit of a more recent generation. With his unique blend of wit and insight, Prince turns a perfunctory item into an object that symbolises the 'near sacred ideals of youth, speed, romance and danger' (J. Banowsky, Richard Prince: Spiritual America, exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim, New York, 2007, p. 93).