Richard Prince (b. 1949)
Property from an Important Private Collection
Richard Prince (b. 1949)

All I've Heard

Details
Richard Prince (b. 1949)
All I've Heard
signed, titled and dated 'R Prince 1988 "all I've heard"' (on the overlap)
acrylic and silkscreen on canvas
56 x 48 in. (142.2 x 121.9 cm.)
Executed in 1988.
Provenance
Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York
U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, New Jersey
His sale; Sotheby's, New York, 18 May 2000, lot 92
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

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Alex Berggruen
Alex Berggruen

Lot Essay

Painted in 1988, Richard Prince’s All I’ve Heard is a part of his celebrated monochromatic joke paintings executed between 1987 and 1989. The format of each painting is the same compositionally, with a joke made up of block letters isolated in the center of a single colored large canvas. The jokes are simple visually and straightforward contextually, presenting one-liners or short jokes with eager punch lines, illustrating deadpan humor painted in a deadpan style. All I’ve Heard, formerly within the collection of U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg, is scribed in vivid yellow against a deep purple canvas, and the joke reads, “With all I’ve heard about A-bombs that’ll destroy a city and H-bombs that’ll destroy a state and chain reactions that’ll destroy the world… you know I just don’t have any incentive to buy a two pants suit.” Throughout his career Prince has served as an iconoclast of his generation, appropriating images from the media through the mediums of photography, painting, drawing, sculpture, and installation, constantly questioning the role of art in society. Like Prince’s earlier works featuring major themes of media appropriation, the Joke series redefines the functions of stereotypes and clichés by using humor to ultimately play a joke on his own viewers–presenting them with a large canvas and text to contemplate and no profound understanding to be had, the painting and the joke ultimately fall flat.

Known as part of the Pictures Generation of artists in the 1980s, Richard Prince called on the act of appropriation to create his work. In his Cowboys series for example, he cropped images of the Marlboro Man to create mythic compositions of an American West hero. Constantly bombarded by images in an oversaturated media market, Prince’s Joke series paintings recall a minimalist style, rejecting the renaissance of Expressionism occurring in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In particular, his joke paintings mocked the celebrated era of Abstract Expressionism that came before him and their emotional sentiment about art. All I’ve Heard’s large canvas and bright colors recall the format of an Abstract Expressionist painting, but instead of implementing emotional energy into the canvas through physical gestures into abstract forms, Prince literally fills the canvas with no emotional gravity, but rather a meaningless, expressionless ironic wit.

With his previous career at Time-Life magazine where his desk was covered in advertising images and text, Prince spent time reading the various articles and cartoons, leading him to experiment and draw his own variations of cartoons for personal pleasure. He began to copy cartoons from magazines like The New Yorker, rearranging his images with jokes to create disjointed compositions, leading to stripped away compositions of only text. In an interview from 1989, the artist explained the genesis of his joke paintings: “Within about six months I…started to do the jokes in ‘colors.’ I thought the color would be a substitution for an image. The background would be one color and the joke would be another. I picked jokes that were ‘meaningful’ to me. I don’t know how to explain that except that the jokes’ ‘content’ was something that I could identify with. These ‘jokes’ were later identified as the ‘monochromatic joke paintings.’ I fell into them. I was walking around in a dark room looking for the light switch. I was moving by wading more than swimming. I was mowing the lawn. No direction home. I was caught in a landslide. My headaches were gone. I started painting with my fly open. I stopped crying. I started to laugh. Rock bottom sometimes isn’t the bottom. Barnett Newman, Willem de Kooning, Clyfford Still–look out” (R. Prince, interview with B. Appel, Rove Projects, accessed via http://www.rovetv.net/pr-interview.html, October 3, 2014).

By combining “high” and “low” culture, All I’ve Heard, asks “is this a joke?”, or “is this a painting?” and questions conventions of ownership and authorship within the context of art history and advertising. Like Prince’s earlier works that focus primarily on images, the Joke series allowed Prince to manipulate the other component of advertising, words. All I’ve Heard is a perceptive example of Prince not adhering to the rules of the art world, and particularly the 1980’s art market. Just as his joke series mocked Abstract Expressionism, it also mocked the art market, for Prince’s mere ambivalence to commodity caused the work to be a coveted item. The painting literally presents a joke, but it also plays a joke on the principles of the art world and market, curator Nancy Spector explains this dynamic, “With his Monochrome Jokes Prince achieved the anti-masterpiece–an art object that refuses to behave in a museum or market context that privileges the notion of greatness. … Prince’s Monochrome Jokes represent a skillfully calculated inversion of art’s essential value system. … The irony, of course, is that Prince’s anti-masterpieces have all sold, and, in recent years, sold well. What originated as a protest the vanities of the 1980s-art market in the form of a ‘joke’ on collectors, curators, and critics who were busy jumping on the Neo-Expressionist bandwagon, has now entered the art-historical canon” (N. Spector, quoted in N. Spector, Richard Prince: Spiritual America, exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2007, p. 39).

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