Prince of the Repost

by Lucas Blanco



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Image by @leafletsgabe, 2015


Many of my artist friends are upset by Richard Prince's latest exhibition. He takes popular Instagram photos made by others, enlarges and prints them, exhibits them at high end galleries, then the gallery sells them for a huge sum. The latest enactment of this exercise took place at Gagosian. The fact that he doesn't pay the photographers whose work he "appropriates" is one of the reasons why my friends object so much. "What a hack," they say.

They also wonder about the value of the images themselves and so the current prices for his Instagram derivatives are insulting, even if they were original. Thus, his exhibition aggravates even the most doe-eyed, post-everything docent on the planet because its shallowness is right on the surface, not even swaddled in jargon-laden, mumbo-jumbo post-structuralist theory. Instead, he bangs about on Twitter as if he were the victim. Classic. His actions become all the more unconvincing to people who understand his pictures are anything but new. Even the audacity of presenting them as new is not new. "Appropriation as art" has been around for a long time.

It has been nearly 100 years since Duchamp proposed putting his urinal in a gallery and became the poster child for the anti-art movement that was to flourish several decades later - at which point Duchamp was unable to find the original object so his dealer had it copied and finally displayed. What could be more twisted than copying a piece of anti-art that was so bland that it was mislaid by the person who originally produced it? What has Prince done that is any more anti-art than that?

Prince's "art" is like the end of the great tulip mania in 1630's Holland, not the beginning. In the final move of that market the price of a tulip bulb rose to levels that might make even Prince blush. Such pricing did not last long but it did require a critical mass of market participants before reality made clear its absurdity. The message of that market was clear: those who put their faith in false idols need an exit strategy. I'm thankful for Prince because people who generally do not have much to do with art are talking about this exhibit. It has made the front page of MSN.com, been featured on The O'Reilly Factor, and has received notice in many other venues as well. Perhaps this broad scale recognition and indignation will lead to the collapse of inflated prices for bad art.

It is easy to despair when collectors take Prince's and other similarly lame artworks seriously. These singular acts feel like violations of basic principles such as property rights, creativity, and civility. These are principles that most Americans hold, to varying degrees, sacred. I'm rather encouraged by the eagerness of my peers to call out this farce publicly. For all his faults as an artist, Prince certainly understands marketing. The next step is for the art consumer to wise up to the delusion and start looking for better art. If that happens, I think we will all be thanking Richard Prince for providing a great service to art and culture.

June 6, 2015

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