Richard Prince: Spiritual America Opens at the Guggenheim September 28



(NEW YORK, NY – September 21, 2007) Richard Prince: Spiritual America, a critical overview of the celebrated American artist's work, will open at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum on September 28. This comprehensive examination highlights Prince's contributions to the development of contemporary art, bringing together key examples of his photographs, paintings, sculptures, and works on paper in an installation that integrates the various series comprising his oeuvre. The exhibition, which was organized by Nancy Spector, Chief Curator, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, remains on view through January 9, 2008.

This exhibition is made possible by Deutsche Bank, as well as through the generosity of Barbara Gladstone, The Stephanie and Peter Brant Foundation, Michael Ovitz, Steven and Alexandra Cohen, Larry Gagosian, Sotheby's, and those who wish to remain anonymous.

The Leadership Committee for Richard Prince: Spiritual America is gratefully acknowledged.*

Additional programs are sponsored by HBO.

Media partner Thirteen/WNET

* Sadie Coles, London, Charlotte and Bill Ford, Stellan Holm Gallery, Rafael Jablonka, Caroline Hirsch and Andrew Fox, Jean-Pierre and Rachel Lehmann, Linda and Harry Macklowe, Julie and Edward J. Minskoff, Adriana and Robert E. Mnuchin, Dr. and Mrs. Frank M. Moore, Gael Neeson and Stefan Edlis, Amy and John Phelan, Michael Ringier, Keith and Inga Rubenstein, Robert M. Rubin and Stéphane Samuel, Allison and Neil Rubler, Per and Helena Skarstedt, Jennifer Blei Stockman, Steven and Lisa Tananbaum

Richard Prince is one of the most innovative American artists to have emerged during the last 30 years. His deceptively simple act in 1977 of rephotographing advertising images and presenting them as his own ushered in an entirely new, critical approach to art making; one that questioned notions of originality and the privileged status of the unique aesthetic object. Prince's technique involves appropriation; he pilfers freely from the vast image bank of popular culture to create works that simultaneously embrace and critique a quintessentially American sensibility: the Marlboro Man, muscle cars, biker chicks, crude jokes, gag cartoons, and pulp fiction. While previous examinations of his art have emphasized its central role as a catalyst for postmodernist criticism, the Guggenheim exhibition and its accompanying catalogue also focus on the work's iconography and how it registers prevalent themes in our social landscape, including a fascination with rebellion, an obsession with fame, and a preoccupation with the tawdry and the illicit.

“I went to see a psychiatrist. He said, ‘tell me everything.’ I did, and now he’s doing my act.” This one-liner, one in the repertoire of recycled jokes appearing throughout the work of Richard Prince, describes an illicit act of appropriation, in which an existing narrative becomes the source for an entirely new performance. It is a paradigm that provides a succinct introduction to Prince’s creative process, in which the subject matter for his art is taken directly from mass culture—an act of visual piracy that the artist has often referred to as “practicing without a license.”

From Marcel Duchamp’s signed urinal to Andy Warhol’s Brillo boxes, strategies of appropriation have long been at the forefront of avant-garde art making. Prince, however, took the radical step of entirely erasing all traces of his hand from this process when, in 1977, he trained his camera lens on four advertisements for luxury home furnishings in the New York Times Magazine and presented them as Untitled (living rooms), his own autonomous artwork. This iconoclastic gesture represented not only the defining breakthrough of Prince’s career but also a revolutionary challenge to the modernist concepts of originality and authorship, which were then under interrogation by a generation of artists associated with postmodern theory.

Save for the removal of all identifying text and some careful cropping, the rephotographed images remained unchanged, and yet they appear transformed by their new context. What would fail to elicit a second glance in the pages of a magazine is revealed to be a highly orchestrated fiction; the pictures that Prince was re-presenting were themselves idealized simulations of reality. The artist’s day job in the tear-sheet department of Time Life publications allowed him to immerse himself in this parallel universe of consumer aspiration, and he began to marshal images of fashion models, popular brands, and luxury goods into serial patterns, revealing a succession of highly codified visual clichés.

The Series
The simultaneous embrace and critique of mass culture that is at the core of Prince’s art is powerfully articulated in the Cowboys, the series of photographs begun in 1980, appropriated from the long-running advertising campaign for Marlboro cigarettes. Elevated in the public imagination from humble ranch hand to individualistic hero, the cowboy is the ultimate icon of American manhood. The Marlboro men embody this archetype, aided by expansive natural backdrops that draw on both the tradition of American landscape painting and the spectacle of Hollywood Westerns. While Prince amplifies the seductive appeal of these stylized images and studiously eschews any overt moral commentary, the irony of pressing an ideal of rugged health into the service of selling addiction is ever present in the work.

Prince’s attraction to the incendiary potential of photography is writ large in his appropriated 1983 photograph Spiritual America, showing a naked, prepubescent Brooke Shields posing in a brothel-like atmosphere, her face made up like a grown woman’s. First exhibited by Prince in a makeshift gallery on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, the original photograph was at the time the subject of a protracted lawsuit between Shields and the photographer, Gary Gross, over the ownership of its copyright. By then a well-known actress, Shields wanted to prevent further commercialization of the picture, which had been taken with her mother’s full consent. For Prince, this troubling image and its controversial history encapsulate the dueling impulses at the heart of the American psyche, with its overarching puritan ethics countered by a yearning for recognition, even at the price of transgression and degradation.

In 1984, Prince developed a new compositional format that prompted him to look beyond the glossy fabrications of the mainstream media toward the more marginal corners of the cultural landscape. Inspired by a commercial printing technique in which individual slides are grouped, or “ganged,” into one sheet of images, the Gangs allowed him to combine disparate appropriated images into a single photographic print. Drawing his material from the pages of tabloids and special-interest magazines, Prince created alternative pantheons of monster-truck enthusiasts, rockers, porn stars, and paparazzi victims, as well as visual lexicons of related forms such as desert islands, crashing waves, or cloudy skies. Each of these works presents a study in juxtaposition, designed to elucidate the formal and thematic relationships between the images.

During the same period, Prince started to hand-copy cartoons from the pages of the New Yorker and Playboy magazines. These straightforward transcriptions were soon succeeded by a more layered and allusive form of appropriation, in which silkscreened cartoon graphics, usually illustrating moments of discovered infidelity, were twinned with an unrelated joke, creating an unsettling hybrid narrative. In other canvases, Prince dispensed with images all together, reducing the lowbrow gags to bands of text dissecting uniform color fields—an attempt to create a deadpan, off-the-shelf appearance that offers an irreverent reworking of Minimalist painting.

This iconography returned in more fractured form in the White Paintings of the 1990s, in which a disorientating fusion of jokes and fragmented cartoon graphics, as well as silkscreened photographs and abstract patterns, emerge from washes of muted hues, imbuing the complex compositions with a hallucinatory quality. Joke paintings remain an important presence in Prince’s practice today, but in contrast to the reductive aesthetic of the earlier monochromatic works, they are now swathed in translucent layers of mottled pigment, the words hand-stenciled in broken snatches that are sometimes barely legible. The Check Paintings, begun in 1999, are a further permutation of this series, in which the gag line is embedded in collaged grids comprising bank checks (usually from the artist’s own account) or repeated images of bands, celebrities, and vintage pornography.

A similar trajectory toward a more gestural style can be traced in the ongoing series of Hood sculptures that Prince initiated in the late 1980s. These works appropriate the fiberglass replacement car hoods advertised in magazines catering to muscle-car fanatics. While Prince farmed out his earliest Hoods to body shops to achieve a slick commercial finish, he has since come to use their surfaces as supports for expressionistic hand-painting. Whether hanging relief-like on the wall or supported by plywood pedestals, these abstracted sculptures retain the visceral associations of their origins, evoking dreams of customized automobiles and the reckless allure of the open road.

Prince’s Girlfriend photographs, initiated in 1990, suggest a similar sense of escapism through their source in outlaw biker culture. Rephotographed from the amateur snapshots found in the back pages of magazines such as Easyriders, these awkwardly posed, crudely shot images of girls draped across their boyfriends’ motorcycles fall painfully short of the centerfolds they imitate.

In 1996, Prince moved from Manhattan, his base for more than two decades, to a small town in upstate New York. This change in environment engendered a shift in his process to encompass documentation as well as appropriation, as he began to use his everyday surroundings as subjects for the series of photographs Untitled (upstate). These images have neither the slick polish of the mass media nor the raw edge of counterculture rebellion, focusing instead on the unremarkable and the overlooked. Prince infuses the local vernacular of rusting basketball hoops, homemade tire planters, above-ground pools, and dilapidated garages with a melancholy pathos, uncovering an unexpected lyricism in these homegrown tokens of blue-collar Americana.

Prince is an obsessive collector of books, magazines, memorabilia, and other printed ephemera, and over the past decade he has begun to directly incorporate his ever-expanding collection into his art. Recalling the serial nature of his Gangs, the Publicities gather autographed headshots of Hollywood stars and other personalities into formally related groupings, enshrining them as relics of our culture’s obsession with celebrity. The more recent Untitled (original) series is a further variation on these framed archives, in which the original sketches for advertisements and paperbacks are paired either with vintage photographs that tease out their subtexts or with the artist’s modified versions of the same images.

In 2002, Prince began his Nurses, paintings premised on the classic pulp fiction genre of medical romance novels. Using enlarged inkjet reproductions of the book covers, Prince transforms and partly obscures the figures of the nurses with sheaths of lurid over-painting and the addition of surgical masks, creating simultaneously alluring and threatening spectral presences. Prince’s most recent body of work—a series of interactions with the canonic imagery of the Abstract Expressionist artist Willem de Kooning—continues this painterly register. Both homage and desecration, these works seamlessly blend elements from de Kooning’s famous Women with figures cut from pornographic magazines. The resulting hermaphroditic creatures are hybrids on a number of levels, merging the male with the female, painting with photography, and the refinement of modernist art with the promiscuity of mass cultural representation. This transgression of boundaries is a hallmark of all of Prince’s work, exemplifying his vision of a “Spiritual America” fueled by a pervasive desire for rebellion and reinvention.

The Installation
Long interested in the display of his work as part of his overall conceptual practice—as in his own installations First House (1993) and Second House (2001–07)—Prince sees his art relationally. Rather than organizing the work according to chronology or medium, the Guggenheim installation will intersperse works from Prince’s numerous series—including appropriated photographs such as Cowboys, Girlfriends, and Gangs; canvases such as Jokes, White Paintings, Check Paintings, and Nurses; and the Hood sculptures—to unearth latent thematic relationships. Filling the museum’s entire Rotunda and two of its Annex galleries, the exhibition will reveal the iconographic continuity throughout Prince’s oeuvre despite the variety of its imagery and technique.

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, featuring a critical overview by Nancy Spector and with an essay by Jack Bankowsky discussing the artist’s environmental installations, including the Spiritual America gallery, the First House and Second House, and the Library and Body Shop in upstate New York. In addition, Glenn O’Brien has conducted a series of interviews with a range of prominent figures in the worlds of design, media, entertainment, and commerce: Cliff Einstein, Andy Spade, Olivier Zahm, Robert Mankoff, Michelle Urry, Phyllis Diller, David Steinberg, Annie Proulx, Ned Sublette, Sonny Barger, Dave Nichols, Dian Hansen, J Mays, David Fricke, Kim Gordon, Joe Dolce, Michael Ovitz, John McWhinnie, Robert Lesser, and John Waters—all initiators of popular culture. The interviews form a composite portrait of the artist’s themes and provide an insider’s view of the formation of mass-cultural taste. Also included is a text that features passages by John Dogg, the artist collaboratively invented by Richard Prince and the New York gallerist Colin de Land in 1986. Softcover $45; and $60, hardcover.

Exhibition Tour
Following the Guggenheim’s presentation, Richard Prince: Spiritual America will travel to the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, from March 22 to June 15, 2008, and to the Serpentine Gallery, London, in summer 2008.

On View in The Sackler Center for Arts Exhibition

In conjunction with Richard Prince: Spiritual America, the Sackler Center for Arts Education will present a companion exhibition, First Place: Richard Prince’s Early Work, to run concurrently. This didactic exhibition focuses on Prince’s early work from the mid-1970s and provides insight into the process that led to his decisive turn to photographic appropriation in 1977. The photo-based works on view, which combine images with text or collaged elements, reveal the artist’s formative investigations into the relationship between reality and its representations. This exhibition is organized by Nancy Spector, curator of Richard Prince: Spiritual America.

Curatorial support for both exhibitions has been provided by Katherine Brinson, Curatorial Assistant.

September 21, 2007

Betsy Ennis / Leily Soleimani
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Tel: 212 423 3840

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Public Programs For Richard Prince: Spiritual America
In conjunction with the exhibition, the Sackler Center for Arts Education has organized a roster of public programs related to Richard Prince: Spiritual America. The programs below are introduced by Nancy Spector, Chief Curator. Unless otherwise noted, tickets for Public Programs are $10 ($7 for members, students, and seniors). For updated information for ticketed programs, contact the Box Office: call 212 423 3587 or e-mail

Film Screenings

“Why I Go to the Movies Alone”—a series of film screenings ranging from mainstream hits to cult classics—sheds light on the complex matrix of social compulsions and transgressive desires that underlies Richard Prince’s vision of our cultural landscape. Selected by the artist and introduced by special guest hosts, the program reflects the process of collecting and editing pop cultural detritus that lies at the heart of the artist’s creative practice. For complete film listings and screening times, visit

Panel Discussions
WED OCT 3 @ 6:30 PM

“Subcultures and Postmodernism”

Moderator: Johanna Burton. Participants: Simon Critchley, Brian Wallis, and Judith Williamson. Panelists discuss the evolution of Prince’s work in the aftermath of 1960s culture, with its revolutionary politics, countercultural leanings, and subsequent commercialization. Taking stock of developments in music, advertising, and the figure of the rebel, this panel recounts theorizations of both popular and offbeat culture and their imaging in the 1980s and beyond.

WED OCT 17 @ 6:30 PM

“Reagan-Era America”

Moderator: Johanna Burton. Participants: Todd Gitlin, and Gil Troy. Panelists consider American culture of the late 1970s and early 1980s, which served as a backdrop for Prince’s maturation as an artist. Speakers address American identity and subjectivity before, during, and after the Reagan years, paying special attention to what might now be considered tragicomic artistic reactions to the day’s neoconservative politics and administrative changes.

TUE OCT 23 @ 7 PM

“The Worst of Warhol”

Moderators: Jack Bankowsky and Alison M. Gingeras. Participants: Thomas Crow, Wayne Koestenbaum, Robert Nickas, Richard Prince, Scott Rothkopf, and Dorothea von Hantelmann. To mark the 20th anniversary of Andy Warhol’s death, “The Worst of Warhol” brings together a distinguished roster of panelists to reconsider the nature of this protean figure’s influence. Are Warhol’s often demonized “business art” initiatives as central to art today as his iconic Pop art canvases? Focusing on Warhol as publisher, collector, chronicler, publicist, and progenitor of a larger-than-life public persona, discussants entertain the provocation: Is the worst of Warhol really the best of Warhol? This event is co-sponsored by Artforum.

TUE OCT 30 @ 6:30 PM

“What’s Not to Like?”

Focusing on the work of Richard Prince and other artists emerging in the late 1970s and early 1980s, art historian and critic Johanna Burton questions the easy understanding and historicizing of “appropriation.”

TUE NOV 6 @ 6:30 PM

“Prince Among Men”

Richard Meyer, Associate Professor, University of Southern California, and author of Outlaw Representation: Censorship and Homosexuality in Twentieth-Century American Art, addresses issues of masculinity in the work and critical reception of Richard Prince. Cowboys, nurses, biker chicks, car hoods, and other landscapes of desire in Prince’s work and world are addressed.

WED JAN 9 @ 7 PM

“Richard Prince Selects Shorts: A Night at Symphony Space and the Guggenheim”

Find out which writers inspire ardent bibliophile Richard Prince at this evening of Selected Shorts: A Celebration of the Short Story, the acclaimed NPR program. The artist selects stories for this double feature of literature and art, which begins at Symphony Space with short story readings by Broadway and Hollywood actors and concludes with a private viewing of the exhibition Richard Prince: Spiritual America at the Guggenheim Museum. Advance tickets $26; day of show $30; Symphony Space and Guggenheim Members $24. Rush tickets (as available before showtime) $10. Box Office: 212 864 5400 or visit

The Elaine Terner Cooper Education Fund: Conversations with Contemporary Artists

In conjunction with the exhibition Richard Prince: Spiritual America, this season’s series invites a younger generation of American artists whose work shares Prince’s embrace of popular culture and his critical engagement with issues of performativity. The program is introduced by a curator and is followed by a reception with the artists.

TUE NOV 20 @ 6:30 PM

Drawing from the vast reservoir of mass-media visual culture—from advertisements and bumper stickers to pirated images of old master paintings and Internet video downloads—artists Nate Lowman (b. 1979) and Seth Price (b. 1973) interrogate various systems of information dispersion while pointing to the social, economic, or political forces that drive them.

TUE NOV 27 @ 6:30 PM

John Kelsey is a member of the artist collective Bernadette Corporation and cofounder (with Emily Sundblad) of Reena Spaulings, a fictional artist/dealer who began operating on New York’s Lower East Side in 2004. Bernadette Corporation embraces diverse modes of production while interrogating notions of identity and artistic agency. Spaulings collaborates with the artists she represents, undermining professional divisions of labor while addressing issues of authorship and the mechanisms of the art market.

Admission and Museum Hours
Admission is $18 for adults, $15 for students and seniors (65+), and children under 12 are free. Price of admission includes free audioguide. The museum is open Saturday to Wednesday, 10 AM to 5:45 PM, Friday 10 AM to 7:45 PM The museum is closed on Thursday. For general information, please call 212 423 3500 or visit

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