I know there are lots of photographers and other artists who hate Richard Prince. I know it because I’ve talked to them and heard them come unglued on the subject of Prince, who they consider a simple rip-off artist because he “re-photographs” photos made by other people and paints over photos and illustrations made by others.
Keep in mind, most of these people wouldn’t necessarily mind Prince’s work methods as much if his work didn’t sell for enormous sums to collectors of contemporary art. Prince’s “Marlboro Man (Untitled, Cowboy), below, set a record for photograph when it sold for $3,401,000 at Sotheby’s in New York in 2007. Prince’s “Cowboy” series consisted of old Marlboro cigarette print ads that he re-photographed.
At any rate, a lot of artists are sore about Prince’s success. But now, perhaps, we can all look toward Prince in a friendlier context. Last week, during the contemporary art sales in New York, once of Prince’s “Naughty Nurse” pieces went up for bids at the Phillips de Pury auction house. The scene was what Carol Vogel in the New York Times called a “distress sale” of artwork collected by Halsey Minor, co-founder of CNET.
Minor was being forced to auction off artwork because a federal court ordered him to. The proceed from the sale will go to repay a $21.6 million loan made to him by ML Private Finance L.L.C, an affiliate of Merrill Lynch, which in turn is of course now owned by Bank of America, which got some $20 billion of bailout money from the U.S. government during the financial crisis of 2008.
But I digress.
Why should we enjoy the spectacle of a high-flying technology entrepreneur selling off his artwork under such conditions? Because we are human, is the answer. It’s always satisfying seeing something get what my mom used to call “their comeuppance.”
Minor made gazillions and apparently spent multi-gazillions, on lots of things, including art. Minor liked to buy the work of trendy contemporary artists, including Ed Ruscha, Uri Fischer, Takahashi Murakami, and Marc Newson, but his collection didn’t have the splashy results of last week’s other contemporary art sales.
Now, back to Prince: He came out of the milieu of 1980s “post-modern” photographic artists like Cindy Sherman, who created images that re-contextualized familiar types of imagery. Sherman took movie imagery out of the movies and made us see it in a new way. Prince’s re-working of advertising imagery and other commercial imagery created a certain distance between viewers and the visual world that surrounds us. It’s the distance between the Marlboro Man and the “Marlboro Man.”
His “Naughy Nurses” series are based on the covers of cheap paperback novels published during the 1950s and 1960s with titles like Park Avenue Nurse and Tender Nurse. He transferred the novel covers onto canvas, manipulating them in the process, then painted them with lurid colors. While Prince irritates some artists because he appropriates existing imagery, his nurses have prompted others to ask whether he's a misogynist--or whether he is even merely impersonating one.
The Prince piece at the recent auction was “Nurse in Hollywood #4, 2004. It sold for $6.4 million, comfortably between the low estimate of $5 million and the high of $7 million. According to Vogel, it was once also owned by Steven A. Cohen.
Cohen is a hedge-fund gazillionaire.