This comprehensive examination highlights Prince's contributions to the development of contemporary art, bringing together key examples of his photographs, paintings, sculptures, and works on paper in an installation that integrates the various series comprising his oeuvre.
The simultaneous embrace and critique of mass culture that is at the core of Prince’s art is powerfully articulated in the Cowboys, the series of photographs begun in 1980, appropriated from the long-running advertising campaign for Marlboro cigarettes. Elevated in the public imagination from humble ranch hand to individualistic hero, the cowboy is the ultimate icon of American manhood. The Marlboro men embody this archetype, aided by expansive natural backdrops that draw on both the tradition of American landscape painting and the spectacle of Hollywood Westerns. While Prince amplifies the seductive appeal of these stylized images and studiously eschews any overt moral commentary, the irony of pressing an ideal of rugged health into the service of selling addiction is ever present in the work.
Prince’s attraction to the incendiary potential of photography is writ large in his appropriated 1983 photograph Spiritual America, showing a naked, prepubescent Brooke Shields posing in a brothel-like atmosphere, her face made up like a grown woman’s. First exhibited by Prince in a makeshift gallery on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, the original photograph was at the time the subject of a protracted lawsuit between Shields and the photographer, Gary Gross, over the ownership of its copyright. By then a well-known actress, Shields wanted to prevent further commercialization of the picture, which had been taken with her mother’s full consent. For Prince, this troubling image and its controversial history encapsulate the dueling impulses at the heart of the American psyche, with its overarching puritan ethics countered by a yearning for recognition, even at the price of transgression and degradation.
Following the Guggenheim’s presentation, Richard Prince: Spiritual America will travel to the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, from March 22 to June 15, 2008, and to the Serpentine Gallery, London, in summer 2008.
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum Web Site