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You Got It, You Sell It, And You Still Got It

By Scrymarch in Culture
Wed Dec 12, 2007 at 09:19:08 PM EST
Tags: Art (all tags)

Richard Prince: Spiritual America, at the Guggenheim 2007

There is a story, circulated on the Internet, of an American car lover who adored his vehicle so much that, while his wife was away visiting relatives, he drove it into his suburban lounge room through a newly deconstructed wall. Photos accompanying this show the car sitting, waxed and beautiful, amongst the lounges and appliances of contemporary domestic reality, with the neatly cut entrance-way framing the lawn behind. Richard Prince may recognise the sentiment. Twenty five years earlier he was bringing car bonnets into art galleries, on pedestals, and to a more welcoming critical reception, as the current retrospective at the Guggenheim shows.

Grecian urns were everyday objects once. Why wait for rarity to analyze them or admire their beauty?

Recontextualizing everyday objects was already pretty established by the eighties, though, and to be honest I'm not really a car guy. It's Prince's work on rephotography and resampling texts that grabs me more. Here, instead of objects, he arranges images from diverse popular sources in ways that draw attention to their structural similarities, and what that says about the culture that produces them. So he would, say, take just the head and shoulders of a model from a advertisement, blow it up to a good sized gallery canvas, and place it next to two other photo samples with model's heads tilting at exactly the same angle. He also loved advertisements featuring the Marlboro Man. He's documenting what might be called the visual language of consumerism. It seems in this way he is making small steps beyond a pop culture fetishist like Warhol.

Prince mixes mediums. He collected a vast-quantity of one-liner jokes of the slightly dirty variety, and he reproduces them in places that makes you work harder to understand them. He will repeat jokes in a list, start in the middle, mispunctuate. One of his and the curators favourites:

A man walks out of a house of ill-repute, smiling. "What a great business!" he exclaims. "You got it, you sell it, and you still got it!"

He also used cartoons of the same style, as on postcards. One piece has a series of such cartoons all working on a template of a beautiful girl stuck alone on a desert island with a libidinous man. They are shrunk down to bare readability and placed on a background of travel brochure shots of tropical islands. He also reworked amateur pop culture, like biker mags.

Later pieces synthesised these approaches. So you get a series of vaudevillian one-liners on a canvas of cheques, printed with porn photo reproductions and lightly smeared with paint so that the effect only appears on closer examination.

I'm not sure if Prince's obsession with pop culture is that of an anthropologist or a forensic pathologist. Certainly the curator describes him as angry at his times and disgusted at consumerism, thinking pop America grotesque. It seems a miserable kind of existence. Perhaps, given Prince's membership of the high art set, it was merely insincere and astoundingly elitist. At least the other postmodernists seem to be having fun.

As do we. Prince stands in relation to contemporary culture as a pure mathematician sometimes stands in relation to contemporary physics. He was exploring, decades earlier, techniques and viewpoints that we now find startlingly everyday. We forward each other mangled chains of one-liner emails, we photoshop David Hasslehoff into the Marlboro Man, we drive our cars into our living rooms and post it on flickr, we express rage with the current regime by linking to a news article and storming off to Starbucks. So Richard Prince is both prophetic and obsolete. If we want a montage of junk culture photography, all we need to do is type "topless biker chicks" into Google Images.

Prince's latest work reflects this - he has moved away from editorial techniques to his own photography, and fanboy paintings of nurses from pulp novels. He's a content provider now. As a fine artist producing distinct objects though, he's not quite in the same line of work as the rest of us in this time of consumer immaterialism, of expensive creation and cheap reproduction. If you live in the rich world, the tertiary economy swamps its manufacturing cousin in resampling and recontextualization: you do freelance work for a project management consultancy running a branding campaign for reselling liquidity puts on future revenues of bit torrent reruns of M*A*S*H, in Cantonese. You got it, you sell it, and you still got it. What a business.


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You Got It, You Sell It, And You Still Got It | 44 comments (23 topical, 21 editorial, 1 hidden)
test (1.50 / 6) (#11)
by mirko on Mon Dec 10, 2007 at 04:39:51 PM EST

Finally I managed to make the decision that I would work on it. - MDC
we had to huddle together - trane
Prince is a genius. (3.00 / 11) (#12)
by givemegmail111 on Mon Dec 10, 2007 at 05:51:42 PM EST

The old music distribution system is dead. Giving away his new album with The Daily Mail was a bold stroke of brilliance. Newspapers are the wave of the future. Newspapers

McDonalds: i'm lovin' it
Start your day tastefully with a Sausage, Egg & Cheese McGriddle, only at McDonalds.
Rusty fix my sig, dammit!
MTV; VTD.$ (none / 0) (#13)
by V on Mon Dec 10, 2007 at 06:09:01 PM EST

What my fans are saying:
"That, and the fact that V is a total, utter scumbag." VZAMaZ.
"well look up little troll" cts.
"I think you're a worthless little cuntmonkey but you made me lol, so I sigged you." re
"goodness gracious you're an idiot" mariahkillschickens
+1 Scrymarch MTV VTFP (none / 1) (#14)
by mybostinks on Mon Dec 10, 2007 at 08:35:09 PM EST

in addition to that it is an interesting read.

Mentions topless biker chicks too.

Too kind $ (none / 0) (#38)
by Scrymarch on Fri Dec 14, 2007 at 06:08:25 PM EST

[ Parent ]
Never heard of this guy (none / 1) (#19)
by Booger on Tue Dec 11, 2007 at 06:01:29 AM EST

I'm not sure if Prince's obsession with pop culture is that of an anthropologist or a forensic pathologist.

I actually thought you were talking about "Prince" and his funky deconstruction of musical idioms and paradigmatic gender norms in the postmodern, post-structural American pop-cultural landscape.  How stupid I can B.

I did think of a derogatory term for white people--RICH. Call some white guy RICH and it doesn't matter how much money they have, they'll start squealin about how oh they wish they were rich.--tdillo

have the artworld trolled themselves? (none / 1) (#20)
by horny smurf on Tue Dec 11, 2007 at 07:12:32 AM EST

I've never heard the story about the indoor car. But I have heard plenty of stories about art scholars heaping mounds of praise on the "work" of 2 year olds. Shit like this is why the art world sucks.

My kid could paint that. nt. (none / 0) (#26)
by spooked on Tue Dec 11, 2007 at 04:20:55 PM EST

[ Parent ]
More on personal reaction, trolling etc (none / 0) (#22)
by Scrymarch on Tue Dec 11, 2007 at 10:02:51 AM EST

Well it looks like I tooled around too long looking for that lounge room car link and now it's in voting. No high resolution proof either, but cammo swears he remembers it too.

Nostalgiphile - you asked for more of my personal reaction. The article mostly is that. He's not really an artist that hits me in the gut, he provokes analysis. Wandering off into the permanent collection, the Guggenheim has stuff like eg the Kandinskys and their bang / splats of colour, thrilling really, in an art nerd way. Coming back from that to the Prince exhibition was like going out from a club for a smoke .. much more reflective. I usually think about buying the catalogue but no individual piece here was compelling enough. I think that's a function of his obsessive sampling. He didn't even show his own photos until the late 90s.

I think Prince is much more approachable in a retrospective like this than in individual pieces. The big photos of models are pretty, and because the advertising was edited out, and you weren't on the street, you could stop and appreciate it. That said, I'm pretty sure I've walked past his work in other galleries and they did pretty much nothing for me. Here they were arranged all together in little thematic runs, in a great curatorial job. After about half way I started to see what he was getting at, and it seemed worthwhile. This is where the pure maths thing came in for me - it seemed exactly like the complaints occasionally launched against the uselessness of pure maths, and then decades later you find out its the crucial bit of theory for massively helpful technology X.

In terms of art historical context, beyond the general postmodern and deconstructionist flavour I'm not sure I could draw much more in. His contemporaries in the UK like Gilbert and George are more jokey but don't illuminate much. Andres "Piss Christ" Serrano seems to be in the same scene. In terms of influence, Barney's car from one of the Cremaster movies was in the lobby while I was there, not sure if this connection is deliberate or coincidental.

Like Serrano he was also a shameless troll from time to time. It was Richard Prince who used someone else's photo of a pre-pubescent, nude and oiled Brooke Shields in a work called "Spiritual America". For that matter, given the exhibition title and the inclusion of that work, the curators are not oblivious to trolling either.

Ant Farm's Cadillac Ranch (none / 1) (#28)
by MichaelCrawford on Tue Dec 11, 2007 at 06:40:01 PM EST

I don't think this fellow was involved, but the story reminds me of the sculpture of ten half-buried Cadillacs in Texas.

Looking for some free songs?

Hadn't seen that before (none / 0) (#29)
by Scrymarch on Tue Dec 11, 2007 at 11:06:08 PM EST

Quite stylish. Doubt it was Richard Prince though, too outdoorsy.

[ Parent ]
I think it was done in the 60's. $ (none / 0) (#30)
by MichaelCrawford on Tue Dec 11, 2007 at 11:18:16 PM EST

Looking for some free songs?

[ Parent ]

1974 (none / 1) (#43)
by Delirium on Mon Dec 17, 2007 at 03:40:27 AM EST

If only there were an article in some sort of free online encyclopedia with such information!

[ Parent ]
How the fuck... (none / 0) (#33)
by undermyne on Wed Dec 12, 2007 at 12:30:24 AM EST

did I end up reading Husi again?

minus one, teh ghey.

+1FP, w00t! n/t (3.00 / 2) (#34)
by nostalgiphile on Wed Dec 12, 2007 at 09:14:22 AM EST

"Depending on your perspective you are an optimist or a pessimist[,] and a hopeless one too." --trhurler
[ Parent ]
I hate doing this but... (none / 1) (#35)
by kromagg on Wed Dec 12, 2007 at 04:04:05 PM EST

Could someone explain which of three categories the joke falls in, e.g.:
'He will repeat jokes in a list, start in the middle, mispunctuate. One of his and the curators favourites:

 A man walks out of a house of ill-repute, smiling. "What a great business!" he exclaims. "You got it, you sell it, and you still got it!"'

No list as far as I can tell so he either started in the middle or mispunctated right? I don't see it though...

None of them (none / 0) (#36)
by Scrymarch on Thu Dec 13, 2007 at 09:06:31 AM EST

I didn't try to do any of the mangling for this example. But on the canvas you might see something like:

NESS! he exclaims. You got it, you

.. etc.

[ Parent ]

So you mean, cheating on the customers? (none / 0) (#39)
by United Fools on Sat Dec 15, 2007 at 06:10:31 PM EST

So you mean, take their money, but don't give them the goods, so you can sell the same things again?

We are united, we are fools, and we are America!
Read the location of the joke again (none / 0) (#40)
by Scrymarch on Sat Dec 15, 2007 at 09:49:37 PM EST

You may be united, but I'm sure you're not that much of a fool.

[ Parent ]
should we make careers out of art? (none / 0) (#41)
by United Fools on Sun Dec 16, 2007 at 01:55:05 AM EST

Take a camera, shoot some pictures of women or ads, and put them in some museum? We need a leadership committee. Who wants to join?

We are united, we are fools, and we are America!
-1 kitsch post (none / 0) (#42)
by A synx on Sun Dec 16, 2007 at 10:34:37 PM EST

I logged in just so I could blam this piece o' crap

The article name (none / 1) (#44)
by The Amazing Idiot on Mon Dec 17, 2007 at 02:18:29 PM EST

It sounded as if it was yet another article on the "Evils of Copyright" or some such.

Instead it's even worse.. It's a zzz-1zzz snoozefest.
At least somebody can still kick that old dead copyright horse and sound interesting.

You Got It, You Sell It, And You Still Got It | 44 comments (23 topical, 21 editorial, 1 hidden)
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