In 1977 Richard Prince lined up four advertisements for home furnishings torn from the New York Times Magazine, rephotographed them, and presented them as Untitled (living rooms)—a deceptively simple gesture that represented not only a decisive breakthrough in his own practice, but a cornerstone of the postmodernist assault on conventions of authorship and originality. The artist's day job in the tear-sheet department of Time Life Publications allowed him to immerse himself in a world of consumer aspiration, as he scoured the discarded pages for images of fashion models, popular brands, and luxury goods, from which he cropped out all text and logos to reveal a series of highly codified visual tropes. In the triptych Untitled (jewels, watch and pocketbook), high-end accessories are positioned against a background of foliage and bathed in a beatific golden light—an attempt to invoke the natural world that only highlights the bizarre artifice of this carefully orchestrated act of seduction. At the same time that these appropriated photographs undermine the manipulative strategies of the advertising industry, their alien beauty exerts a mesmerizing appeal, exhibiting a simultaneous embrace and critique of mass culture that is at the core of Prince's art.
In 1985, Prince adapted his appropriative method to a new series in which recycled jokes are silkscreened across monochromatic canvases, evoking a deadpan, off-the-shelf aesthetic. Jokes are a highly ritualistic form of social exchange, and in Prince's hands these apparently trivial statements find renewed power as cultural signifiers, focusing on gender stereotypes, sexual anxiety, and family dysfunction. My Neighbor exemplifies a later, more subtly allusive iteration of Prince's Jokes, in which the canvas is swathed in successive layers of mottled pigment and the gag line hand-stenciled in broken snatches so that it hovers on the periphery of legibility. A similar trajectory toward a more gestural style can be traced in the ongoing series of sculptures that Prince initiated in the late 1980s, which appropriate fiberglass car hoods advertised in the back pages of muscle-car magazines. While Prince farmed out his earliest Hoods to body shops to achieve a slick commercial finish, in more recent works such as Children, he uses their surfaces as supports for expressionistic hand-painting. Oscillating between the conditions of painting and sculpture, these abstracted objects retain the visceral associations of their origins, evoking the reckless allure of the open road and an attendant, prototypically American fantasy of rebellion and escape.