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All I've Heard

All I've Heard
signed, titled and dated 'R. Prince 1989 "All I've Heard"' (on the overlap)
acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
75 1/4 x 58 in. (191.8 x 147.3 cm.)
Painted in 1989.
Gladstone Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Richard Prince: Spiritual America, September 2007-January 2008, p. 127 (illustrated).
Greenwich, The Brant Foundation Art Study Center, Remembering Henry's Show: Selected Works 1978-2008, May-January 2010 (illustrated).
Greenwich, The Brant Foundation Art Study Center, Deliverance, November-April 2015 (illustrated).

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Isabella Lauria
Isabella Lauria Vice President, Senior Specialist, Head of 21st Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

With characteristic humor, edginess, and elegance, Richard Prince has never ceased innovating since his explosion onto the art scene in the late 1970s. All I’ve Heard, among the most cutting of Prince’s Joke paintings of 1987-9, combines gallows humor with the modernist staple of the monochrome, thereby mixing high and low in the artist’s signature fashion. Exhibited in Prince’s seminal 2007-8 retrospective Richard Prince: Spiritual America at the Guggenheim Museum, New York, All I’ve Heard is an indispensable part of the artist’s storied career. Prince’s joke paintings are more than gags; they are in fact manifestations of artistic labor. New York Times co-chief art critic Roberta Smith has called the Joke paintings “portraits of the artist at work, sweating it out, honing his material and timing, egging himself on to come up with another one and then another one until he gets our full attention, cracks us up and, in stand-up parlance, kills” (R. Smith, “Pilfering a Culture Out of Joint,” New York Times, September 28, 2007,

Green words hover in an orange-peach field, a self-consciously unconventional juxtaposition of colors that is nevertheless alluring. The text seems to hover above the color field like movie credit, or the silkscreened paintings of Andy Warhol or Sister Corita Kent. The purloined punch line is tragicomic, amounting to the futility of getting a suit when the world’s end seems so near. All I’ve Heard is reminiscent of today’s “dad jokes,” but also of what has been called Borscht Belt comedy—a genre of puns pioneered by Jewish comedians in the club circuit of the Borscht Belt. The largely defunct series of summer resorts straddling New York City and upstate New York that comprise the Borscht Belt lend a nostalgia to All I’ve Heard as it chronicles the humor of a bygone world. Moreover, the canvas’s titling suggests a retrospective quality, as if Prince himself has distilled all he has heard and seen into the painting, which bears witness as it solicits laughs.

Yet Prince remains elusive, and the joke is the perfect medium for self-effacement. In an interview with the legendary writer Glenn O’Brien, Prince muses, “When I was younger, I was always fairly timid and withdrawn. I went to Max’s and CBGB a lot but I was always afraid—because I just didn’t fit in” (G. O’Brien, “Richard Prince,” Interview, November 23, 2008, Humor might have been the antidote. Tellingly, in a 1988 interview with art historian Marvin Heiferman, Prince says of the joke paintings, “If anything I think they’re tragic” (M. Heiferman, “Richard Prince by Marvin Heiferman,” BOMB Magazine, No. 24, July 1, 1988, By painting the joke on top of the ground, All I’ve Heard gestures toward what is underneath it, be it pigment or emotion. There is a pathos to always presenting one’s self through others, as is also seen in the work of Prince’s contemporaries, like Sherrie Levine and Cindy Sherman.

A pioneer of the Pictures Generation, a loose grouping of artists in the late 1970s and 1980s thinking through appropriated images, text, and mass media, Prince takes his jokes from other sources and focuses on concept rather than originality. The artist describes his shift from illustration to text, “I never really started telling [jokes]. I started telling them over. Back in 1985, in Venice, California, I was drawing my favorite cartoons in pencil on paper. After this I dropped the illustration or image part of the cartoon and concentrated on the punch line” (R. Prince, “Interview with Richard Prince,” Modern Painters, Vol. 15, No. 3, Autumn 2002, p. 68). Prince, always working to refine his visual language, has stripped painting nearly bare in works like All I’ve Heard, focusing on the spareness of text and monochromatic pigment rather than expression or imagery. All I’ve Heard is thus reminiscent of other avant-garde artists, like the poem-performances of Dada, Yves Klein’s blue monochromes, and the deadpan wordplay of John Baldessari.

There is no overstating Prince’s influence on contemporary art. He has mounted numerous retrospectives and solo museum shows and his work is represented in many public collections around the world. All I’ve Heard points to the cumulative quality of Prince’s career, suggesting perhaps that it has all been an earnest attempt to get a laugh. Still, behind every joke is something serious. All I’ve Heard makes light of global destruction, but there are also pressing questions about the role of the artist. Is he a performer, a writer, a chronicler of our times using the words and images of others? Like the greatest comedians, for each chuckle Prince gives us, he also offers a moment of introspection.

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