September 26 - October 27 1980
“For his exhibition in the 14th Street Showcase, Richard Prince has presented four images which he refers to as ‘excessively similar,’ rather than repetitive. The images are also very familiar since they are all taken from magazines and movie stills. In using these sources as his materials, Prince appropriates the powerful, nonverbal messages they contain. Images derived from the mass media retain the conceptual and visual design used to communicate complex social messages simply and quickly. They convey emotions and types of behavior which become “standard” as a result of their accessibility and ensuing acceptance.
It is through these shares states of emotion generated by and exposure to a common media environment that Prince hopes to reach his audience. By its media nature, his art gains access to the “standard” emotional channels with immediacy and seeming effortlessness. These are intentional qualities arising from the original purpose of the advertising or publicity designs.
This “prior-availability” of the images—their visual and emotional familiarity—insures that the viewer will recall the original context and yet, at the same time, be aware of a fictional transformation taking place in the present work. In these images any reference to the original setting is removed (Prince re-photographs the original images, enlarging and cropping them), but their non-fictional sources, i.e., magazines and movie stills, are still obvious and give the “picture” a believable edge.
Likewise, the emotional message retains some of its original clichéd suggestion, but also takes on a new meaning provided by the viewer. In this work, for instance, the gloved hands, by virtue of their repetition, seem to take on an ominous significance. Enlargement of a gestural detail produces a threatening image—a light grasp of the lapel becomes an anxious clutch. It is this emotional response to the images which interests the artist; Prince believes that the “truth” of our existence lies in our emotions, which in his art are elicited by the viewer’s fictional transformations of the images he presents.
The serial quality of the ‘excessively similar’ images is designed to reinforce such a transformation: “if you don’t believe it the first time, here it is again.” By using repetition, Prince is not relying on the loaded quality of the advertising message, but rather is playing games with the obvious clichés of his sources. For instance, in another work, Prince has shown a series of elegant hands wearing wristwatches which all display the same time, 8:10. By so doing, he reduces the former significance of the ad image to trivia.
Prince’s art is created to be read as easily as its media counterparts. He considers his work ‘beautiful’ when it is perceived immediately and without effort. Thus, in the current window display Prince has simply lit the back of the window and pushed the images themselves right up to the window’s face. The natural light of the street at any hour allows these images to operate as usual, to enter our consciousness subliminally rather than through forced attention. The 14th Street Showcase is a highly appropriate spot for this work to reach its natural audience: Pedestrians, shoppers, and commuters. Thus, just as Prince takes from the mass media, he delivers his art to the same mass audience.”
Courtesy the Artist and New Museum