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Richard Prince (b. 1949)
signed and dated 'Richard Prince 1995' (on the overlap)
acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
58¼ x 96 in. (148 x 243.4 cm.)
Painted in 1995.
Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
T. Kawachi and R. Prince, eds., 4x4, Kyoto, 1997, p. 61 (illustrated in color).

Lot Essay

Larry Clark: Did you have a painful childhood?
Richard Prince: ...I wish I had had more courage as a child to ignore the stupidity of what was required. But I was a kid. I managed to get to Los Angeles when I was sixteen, seventeen. 1967. I went through the door. I got out earlier than most.
L.C.: Before you got out the door were you aware of what was going on out there?
R.P.: There's that joke. My parents kept me in a closet. Until I was fifteen, I thought I was a suit.
(interview with the artist, L. Clark, "Interview", Richard Prince, New York, 1992, p. 130).

Richard Prince's Untitled from 1995 is a work which balances numerous dualities - from a distance, the work seduces with a beautifully minimal, vibrant orange surface with a single, cool blue line running across the canvas. The work is compositionally reminiscent of various minimalist paintings, especially the "zip" paintings of Barnett Newman. However, the distant composure of the canvas is abruptly punctuated by the puzzling, humorous text. The stenciled lettering, which conveys sterility and coldness from the lack of a human touch, is subverted by the unnatural break in the middle of the sentence; all of a sudden, we are reminded of the hand that created the work, which the work does in fact belong to the grand tradition of painting in a way. Prince, however, chooses to focus primarily on the subject matter (jokes, in this case) rather than the material, which ultimately takes a jab at the traditional notion of painting.

Prince initially emerged as a preeminent figure among the Picture Generation artists with his appropriation of media imagery in the 1970s. His image of the Marlboro Man, which Prince borrowed from a cigarette advertisement, challenges the notion of authorship and originality. Such works reflect the environment in which Prince grew up in - the first generation completely submersed in omnipresent media influence and the resulting consumerism. It is no surprise that Prince's works are concerned with notions of authenticity, and collective and subjective identities. In the 1980s, Prince moved away from the use of photographic imagery and began his joke paintings, which follow a similar trajectory of his early works but from a different standpoint. This time around, his emphasis is on the art of painting, or rather the end of the art of painting.

Prince's use of jokes is similar to the way in which he appropriated media imageries, as in both cases, he constructs experiences through weaving together collective sources. By simply embedding the words onto the canvas, he brands the joke as his and not belonging to the public anymore. Untitled is a quintessential work by Prince which is both playful and challenging. The intersections of such polarities imbue the work with enduring appeal.

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