Following from our most recent Online Viewing Room featuring the Pictures Generation this presentation focuses on one of its key exponents, Richard Prince, and highlights his renowned Cowboys series.
Richard Prince, a key member of the Pictures Generation, is arguably best known for his significant contribution to the development of the notion of appropriation as an artistic strategy. His take on appropriation is perhaps nowhere best illustrated than in his Cowboys series of works, or “re-photographs” as they were soon termed which he started producing in 1981. By then, Prince had already spent several years working at Time Life Publications where he regularly combed through magazines including, People, Fortune, Sports Illustrated and Time daily, ripping up editorials pages to be archived. Working at Time he often came across the Marlboro cigarette ads which featured prominently at the time and was struck by the cultural resurgence of the motif of the cowboy as the Marlboro Man.
In a notorious act of appropriation, Prince started re-photographing these advertisements, enlarging them and taking out all the text, slogans and logos that accompanied the original images, bringing notions of originality and authorship into sharp focus. Although these works came with their fair share of controversy they can also be situated as part of a broader strategy of mining the iconography of popular culture—in this case magazine advertisements—for motifs and subject matter.
By choosing to focus on an iconic image of American culture, that of the cowboy with all its fixtures and fittings including lassos, sunsets, big blue skies and the arid, wild landscape of Western U.S., Prince’s seminal works not only expose and scrutinise ideological and cultural assumptions and clichés but also shed a light onto the strategies of advertising, the fantasies and fictions depicted under the guise of reality and the myths and stereotypes perpetuated. More importantly perhaps, the works also bring to the fore the very idea of the image—and it goes without saying advert—as construct, as well as the precarious relationship between images and their assigned meanings.
Richard Prince was born in the Panama Canal Zone in 1949 and grew up in Massachusetts. He first started working on his famous “re-photographs” after relocating to New York in 1977. In 2007 his work was the subject of a major retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum. He currently lives and works in Upstate New York.