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b. 1949, Panama Canal Zone
Born in 1949 in the Panama Canal Zone, then a United States territory, Richard Prince moved to a suburb of Boston in 1954. In 1973, after applying to the San Francisco Art Institute without success, he moved to New York, where he became familiar with Conceptual art. Working in the Time-Life Building as a preparer of magazine clippings, he became aware of the possibilities of advertising imagery—all that would be left after he cut out articles—as an element in his art. Early works such as Untitled (Cigarettes) (1978–79) and Untitled (three women looking in the same direction) (1980) consist of found advertising images, rephotographed and juxtaposed with one another by the artist. The deliberately artificial look of the photographs linked Prince to contemporaries such as Cindy Sherman and Jack Goldstein, who were also using photography to blur the line between reality and artifice. Prince’s decontextualization of found photographs and an interest in consumer culture also situated him alongside emerging appropriation artists such as Barbara Kruger and Sherrie Levine. Prince was also involved in the downtown New Wave scene at this time; he played in bands and was a regular at rock venues such as the Mudd Club. During the early 1980s, Prince developed a process that resulted in grids of juxtaposed images, which he referred to as “gangs.” In works such as Entertainers (1982–83), he joined together multiple 35 mm slides of images from advertisements and magazines to form one larger negative, from which the final print was made. Each “gang” focused on a particular pop-culture motif of desire, including car hoods, bikers, pornography, cowboys, and sunsets. He also began taking his own photographs. For the Girlfriends series (1992), Prince photographed women who had appeared in biker magazines, re-creating their magazine images.
While Prince has exhibited frequently in galleries, his work has also appeared in magazines such as Purple and, more recently, W. He has also produced paintings and prints. In the late 1980s, for example, he began painting texts of jokes against abstract, often monochromatic backgrounds, as in The Wrong Joke (1989). My Usual Procedure (1988) is a silkscreen of a newspaper cartoon. He also began painting directly onto found materials such as tires and car hoods, as in Untitled (Hoods) (1989), producing hybrids of painting and sculpture. Over the past decade, he has photographed around his home in upstate New York, concentrating on mundane suburban details. Prince’s Check Paintings (1999–2005) represent a new manifestation of his engagement with jokes. His recent series, Nurses (2002–06), juxtaposes the popular icon of 50s and 60s pulp fiction paperbacks with elusive text cloistered within menacing abstract backgrounds.
Since his first solo exhibition, at Artists Space in New York in 1980, Prince has had shows at such venues as the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London (1983), Magasin, Centre National d’Art Contemporain in Grenoble (1988), IVAM Centre del Carme in Valencia, Spain (1989); Whitney Museum of American Art in New York (1992), Museum Haus Lange in Krefeld, Germany (1997); MAK Center for Art and Architecture in Los Angeles (2000); Museum für Gegenwartskunst Basel (2001); Kunsthalle Zürich (2002); and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York (2007. His work has appeared in the Wiener Internationale Biennale (1981), Bienal de São Paolo (1983), Whitney Biennial (1985, 1987, 1997, and 2004), Biennale of Sydney (1986), Venice Biennale (1988 and 2007), Art et Publicité 1890–1990 at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris (1990), Documenta 9 (1992), Around 1984: A Look at Art in the Eighties at P.S. 1 in New York (2000), watery, domestic at the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago (2003), Surprise, Surprise at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London (2006), and Street and Studio at the Tate Modern in London (2008). Prince lives and works in upstate New York.