Richard Prince (b. 1949)
Richard Prince (b. 1949)

The Other Guy

Richard Prince (b. 1949)
The Other Guy
signed, titled and dated 'R Prince 1990 "The Other Guy"' (on the overlap)
acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
96 x 75 in. (243.8 x 190.5 cm.)
Painted in 1990.
Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner

Lot Essay

"The subject is radical--the idea of taking 'jokes' as a pictorial theme was really new, a virgin territory, untested waters. To draw them and then present them as your own art was to ask for a lot of understanding from the public. The materials used--canvas, stretcher, paint--were very traditional. That's the discipline" (Richard Prince, quoted in V. Duponchelle, "Richard Prince: To Collect Is to Compare," pp. 79-85, Richard Prince, exh. cat., Paris, 2008, p. 83).

Painted in 1990, The Other Guy dates from only a few years after Richard Prince had begun creating his celebrated monochrome "Joke Paintings." In these works, a pre-stretched canvas of a single color is articulated only by the lines of text, in this case yellow, which recount a supposedly witty tale. Prince has taken the esteemed monochrome espoused by a range of artists from Kazimir Malevich to Yves Klein and Ad Reinhardt to Brice Marden; however, he has subverted it. Formally, the lines of text in their own color recall the pleats of Piero Manzoni's Achromes or the "zips" of Barnett Newman. But the conceptual rhetoric that underpinned the works of those artistic forebears is dispersed through the presence of this banal witticism. For, as is always the case in these works, the joke in The Other Guy is deliberately and indeed provocatively outdated and outmoded.

In The Other Guy, Prince has undermined the entire narrative function of painting, the whole notion of a picture having a "meaning": the viewer is forced to read and forced to react to emphatically prosaic content which has been given epic treatment by the imposing scale of the picture. Prince has said that the cool look of Abstract Expressionists such as Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline had in part inspired him to become an artist; here, he adopts a very different position of mocking cool. Where those artists revealed themselves through their expressive involvement with the canvas, Prince is a tantalizingly evasive presence, keeping his viewer at a distance with a succession of inscrutable feints, seeming as impersonal as his typeface.

Prince first gained recognition as an artist for his "rephotographed" works during the late 1970s, in which he often took ads from magazines and other media and, cropping out various details, created his own slightly-differentiated compositions. In 1984, he expanded the scope of his appropriations by taking cartoons from The New Yorker and rendering them on a larger scale. This system soon evolved: in some of the works, he would juxtapose the punchline with one cartoon, reproduced in pencil on paper, with the image from another. In 1987, however, he embarked upon a series in which he discarded the cartoons altogether, in part because he realized that he had "started calling these cartoons 'jokes' and realized I was calling them wrong." Prince explained that at this point, he "started to forget about the cartoon image and just think about the text or punch line. I checked out joke telling books. I picked out about a dozen jokes... ones that were familiar, ones that get retold, and wrote them out, by hand, on small pieces of paper" (R. Prince, quoted in L. Clark, "Interview,", in L. Phillips, Richard Prince,, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1992, p. 131). This marked the birth of the monochrome "Joke Paintings" such as The Other Guy.

Prince selected his subject matter carefully for these pictures. By taking them from various sources, he was creating a variant of the appropriation that had underlain much of his earlier work. In fact, as was the case in the ads in which he grouped together similar images, which echoed each other, in the "Joke Paintings," Prince was appropriating subject matter that was already appropriated. Just as the "classic" poses that were so similar across the board in advertising had obscure origins, at times harking back to hazy classical roots, so, too, the jokes had filtered down through generations. Many of them are authorless and have been reprised countless times. Indeed, a variation on the joke in The Other Guy appeared in a 1964 edition of Voo Doo, a humorous publication produced by students at MIT. These jokes are ownerless, the intellectual property of noone; every time one of the jokes is told, it has in a sense been re-appropriated. Prince appears to be crystallising this process in The Other Guy, by immortalising the joke in a single form on canvas.

Of course, the fact that the joke is a homophobic hangover from a bygone era is crucial in The Other Guy. Offense, Prince appears to be saying, like beauty, resides in the eye of the beholder. As is the case in many of his "Joke Paintings," the subject matter here is clearly irrelevant in the modern era. Other pictures are framed in the cultural set pieces about the Cold War, sexism, and travelling salesmen. Edmund White, writing in Parkett about the "Joke Paintings," explained that Prince's content was essentially "archaeological," pointing out that the humour that he has mined was often part of a rearguard conservatism, with people making fun of issues as they saw them eroding (E. White, "Bad Jokes,", Parkett, no. 34, 1992, p. 76). The joke here serves in part as a barometer for our changing times. The discourse of discrimination and victimisation that is the foundation for this supposedly witty story is all the more evident to our eyes in the hopefully more enlightened times in which we live, revealing to what extent, as Prince himself expressed, the jokes, "gradually became tragic in a quite unexpected way" (Prince, quoted in N. Spector, "Nowhere Man,", in N. Spector (ed.), Richard Prince,, Solomon R. Guggenheim, New York, 2007, p. 37).

The content of this joke also reveals another level of deception on the part of Prince himself. Where his artistic forebears were so willing to promote themselves through their signature styles as well as their often-legendary extra-curricular activities, by contrast, Prince has been a consistently evasive, the deliberate calculation trained toward the exploration of concepts of identity. Just as the appropriation of jokes-or ads, or other artists' images-throws into question ideas of authorship and originality, so too, Prince has made his own identity problematic. His works, for instance his appropriations of ads fuelled with machismo, have sometimes had homoerotic overtones, which he himself has admitted; one of the rare portraits of the artist showed him dressed as a woman, mirroring the look of Cindy Sherman in a pendant image. By contrast, Prince has also paid wry homage to the testosterone-fuelled world of motorcycles and pornography with his readers' wives-style Biker Chicks. Questions of sexual identity and identity in general are thus obfuscated as they are proliferated by works such as The Other Guy, which enacts a teasing sequence of gives and takes yet ultimately allows the artist to remain aloof and elusive, and therefore consistently provocative.

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