Richard Prince at Gagosian by Nick Stillman

Nick Stillman laments the lack of humor in Richard Prince’s latest gallery show, citing quotes from past BOMB interviews with Barbara Kruger and Marvin Heiferman.

Richard Prince

In Richard Prince’s 1982 BOMB interview with Barbara Kruger, the prince of the non-committal image claims he was trying to make his photographs look like they had been sent away for. “Right now there seems to be a serious lack of being uncaringly lost.” Maybe this is exactly what rubs me the wrong way about Prince’s latest New York gallery outing, his first at Gagosian since defecting from Barbara Gladstone. His blandly big new collages feel slickly manufactured—too much like “art” to have the humor that once was his ace card. These Canal Zone pieces merge vintage porn images on canvas with images of muscular, dreadlocked men (most of them holding guitars that Prince gleaned from unrelated sources), mostly set within sultry tropicalia.

Prince has said (in a later BOMB interview from 1988) that his goal is always to produce disorientation and doubt: “If there’s any one thing going on through these images, it’s that I as an audience don’t believe them.” Sometime within the past few years, Prince’s aptitude for disorientation dissipated. An early Prince photo of a magazine ad, the Joke Paintings, the gang photos, the Check Paintings: they all get under your skin a little. They mock a mass willingness to buy into the fallacy of representation and do it with maddeningly deadpan blankness.

Plus, hasn’t Ashley Bickerton already cornered the market on slicked-out, sexed-up representations of tropical dystopia? I don’t buy that because Prince was born in the Panama Canal Zone (which I’ve never been able to verify from anyplace reputable) it’s suddenly relevant for him to “turn to his own biographical roots for inspiration.” Isn’t Prince interesting partially because he has systematically erased all believability in relation to his own biography? That his is a mail-order personal history? In the aforementioned 1988 interview with Marvin Heiferman, Prince said about the Joke Paintings, “Either this is going to be completely wrong or it’s going to be right.” I’m of the opinion that Prince is right more than he’s wrong, but this time it feels like the joke’s on him.

Dread Scott by Nick Stillman
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