Richard Prince’s Appropriation Isn’t New

Richard Prince's Instagram Prints at the GAgosian gallery, via
Richard Prince’s Instagram Prints at the Gagosian gallery, via artfcity

The terrific daily JSTOR points out that Richard Prince and his appropriation of Instagram photos is nothing new, in fact some argued his ideas weren’t even new 25 years ago:

Prince’s artistic practice has always been challenged by critics, though likewise his very forthright practice and process challenges viewers, gallerists, art patrons, and the public at large to consider and debate the very value of art and copyright, now questioning what it means to own, create, and appropriate public art in this digital age.

In a 1988 interview with Prince, Marvin Halferman asked about Warhol’s influence upon his photographic works, to which Prince responded, “I wanted to use photography because it has another…history. Painting, silk screen, drawing, they suggest something else. But photography suggested belief. It suggests fact. I thought that because I was choosing subject matter that was in fact, fiction, it might be better to use a factual medium to level that fiction, to occupy an area of ‘official fiction.’”

It seems that Prince’s blending of fact and fiction via photography has now expanded into the much murkier waters of social media, where an exponentially growing public archive is available to him as his medium.

Whether praised for his continued relevance in the conversation surrounding ownership and the digital archive or whether condemned for his lack of originality and accused of outright stealing, Prince continues to sell his work and name while sparking important and relevant conversations.

Cooke sums it up best back in ‘92 saying, “Whether it is encountered in actuality or in reproduction matters little, for Prince’s works function best when they act as reminders of themselves, as traces of what has already been seen, revealed, or known.” Instagram currently has 300 million active users who are likely intricately and personally embedded in this network of friends, family, celebrity, and strangers alike.

Lynne Cooke, Richard Prince. New York, Whitney Museum, 134 The Burlington Mag. 554 (1992).
Marvin Heiferman & Richard Prince, Richard Prince, BOMB 34 (1988).

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