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All I've Heard

All I've Heard
signed, titled and dated 'R Prince 1988 "All I've Heard" (on the overlap)
acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
56 1/8 x 48 in. (142.6 x 121.9 cm.)
Executed in 1988.
Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York
Skarstedt Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Richard Prince: Jokes, Gang, Hoods, exh. cat., Cologne, Jablonka Galerie, 1990, p. 40 (illustrated).
B. Hainley et al., Richard Prince: Paintings, Stuttgart, 2002, p. 69 (illustrated).
Richard Prince: Spiritual America, exh. cat., New York, Guggenheim Museum, 2008, pp. 131 and 232 (installation view illustrated).
R. Prince, 90 Jokes, New York, 2017, n.p. (illustrated).
New York, Skarstedt Gallery, Richard Prince: Joke Paintings 1987-1994, October-December 1998.
New York, Tony Shafrazi Gallery, The Other Side, May-July 2006.
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Ana Maria Celis
Ana Maria Celis Head of Department

Lot Essay

As one of the preeminent promoters of appropriation to emerge from the post-modern era, Richard Prince has been a constant force in the reevaluation of mass media, popular culture, and consumer-focused text and image relationships since the 1980s. All I’ve Heard is a sardonic variant of Prince’s much-lauded Joke paintings and is a telling example of the artist’s ability to transcend the ordinary using simple, direct means. Existing in their most primal format as mere text on a solid-colored background, these works leverage their seeming simplicity to draw a chuckle from the viewer while also establishing a commentary on the oral history of humor, its word-of-mouth qualities, and the oft overlooked nature of communication in the modern world. Curator Nancy Spector, on the occasion of Prince’s 2007 retrospective exhibition at the Guggenheim intoned, “When Prince hijacks photographs and off-color jokes from their circulation in mass culture and re-presents them as his own, he injects his copies [in the artist’s words] ‘with the element of imagination and thus destablize[s]’ our sense of reality. He takes what we already know–commercial advertising, snapshots of girlfriends, one-liners, celebrity head-shots, pulp-fiction covers–and gives it back relatively unaltered, but forever changed” (N. Spector, “Nowhere Man,” Richard Prince, exh. cat., Guggenheim, New York, 2007, p. 23). In Prince’s case, the recontextualization of something so seemingly bland and commonplace as a joke rips the comedic format from a greater cultural structure in an attempt to refocus our reading of the text under new circumstances. The language seems out of place on the canvas instead of under a cartoon in the New Yorker or issuing from the microphone at a dimly-lit club. This tension of misplaced content forces the viewer to reevaluate the original and take stock of the duplicate in a new light.

Painted in neat, orderly type in a buttercream yellow on a pure, light blue backdrop reminiscent of cloudless sky, All I’ve Heard presents text as image and challenges the area between painting and language-based art. As is typical of this series, the words are silkscreened over an even acrylic ground which combines the aura of more traditional painting with post-modern ideas about commercial reproduction.

Taking it at face value, the work might appear somewhat inscrutable; the joke being told is not particularly funny and now (decades after its realization) might even seem dated. However, looking beyond the subject matter itself to the very reason for this flop of a joke, one is enlightened to the heart of Prince’s subversive practice. Writer and editor Glenn O’Brien noted in a catalogue for the Whitney Museum of American Art, “Like a joke, art is something you get or don’t get. Art and jokes instigate the recognition of a shared point of view, an acknowledgement of a punch line” (G. O’Brien, “The Joke of the New”, in Richard Prince, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1992, p. 114). The joke presented is not entirely hard to get, but the reason for its reproduction walks hand in hand with the initial banality. Prince is well aware of this dichotomy and purposefully treads the line between groaning one-liners and more obtuse deadpan dialogues in order to make the text harder to digest. Sometimes repetition or odd wording causes a double take. In doing so, he asks the viewer to spend more time with the work.

“[Prince] takes what we already know–commercial advertising, snapshots of girlfriends, one-liners, celebrity head-shots, pulp-fiction covers–and gives it back relatively unaltered, but forever changed.” Nancy Spector

All I’ve Heard, unlike some of his more pun-centric works, reads like a stand-up routine. As such, it would be much more effective as something heard rather than something read. A subtlety is lost in the transition from spoken word to silkscreened text, and this nagging feeling as if something is missing is key to a reading of the work. Asked about his source material, Prince quipped in his typical surreal manner, "None of them are mine. I get them from magazines, books, the internet. Sometimes from the inside of a bank. You know they're just like blueprints that float around the sky and show up on a cloud. Sometimes I buy them from other criminals. People tell them to me. Ministers. Rabbis. Priests. Once I saw one in the washing machine spinning around getting clean" (R. Prince, quoted in “Like a Beautiful Scar On Your Head,” Modern Painters, Autumn 2002). Even the artist’s response to this query is telling of his grasp on the written, spoken, and printed word. He uses phrasing and asides to comedic tropes to bring about a certain reaction. The Joke paintings operate as a series, each one strengthening the next in a manner that furthers Prince’s thesis.

Prince uses his Joke paintings to poke fun at the self -seriousness and perceived gentility of the art world. Combining the textual format of the Conceptual Art school with the low brow humor of uncles everywhere, the artist creates a juxtaposition of ideas that vacillates between the absurd and the strikingly poignant. As the novelist Edmund White once put it: "The spiritual side of life, to be sure, is diminished by jokes... Humor is the enemy of lyric beauty and sadism (Jean Genet is never funny), but their friend - or at least their willing accomplice--is wan humor, weak jokes, old gags, tired one-liners. The wise-ass will never feel enough about anything to arrive at wisdom, but the failed comic, who bores others and embarrasses himself but can't shut up, is both the Fool and Lear. Prince's bad jokes are the truest expression we have of spiritual America," (E. White, “Bad Jokes,” Parkett, December 1992, p. 79). By tapping into the essence of humor, one of the most basic human reactions, Prince is able to approach the audience in a more direct, meaningful way. If the jokes were complex, esoteric, or required knowledge of specific references, people, or ideas, they would not be as effective. By working with duds, Prince can more effectively gain a wider audience.

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