Thursday, 2 June 2011

Artist of the Week: Richard Prince

There is an interesting division between high art and popular culture. The boundary seems fairly elastic, so why bother with such artificial constructs? Sometimes they exist for convenience - people like to categorise things and take comfort from being able to draw clear distinctions. But where does one draw the line? When does erotic art become smut? Can high art take smut, recontextualise it and reinterpret it? Do the artists' intentions matter more than personal interpretation? Should erotic content be balanced by intellectual stimuli?

There are lots of questions that require a full and probing investigation. Clear answers may be harder to find. This blog is more about the thrill of the chase, as we tease different strands from the dirty crocheted blanket draped over the sofa of life, examine the patterns and stains, and leave sustained and still confused by it's bizarre complexity.

Richard Prince (b.1949) is an American artist. He gained notoriety with his early work in the mid-70s 're-photographing' advertisements, such as the Marlboro cowboy, and presenting them in an art gallery context. As such he was a poster-boy for postmodernism and although he has explored a variety of themes and media across his career, he has consistently employed an approach of appropriation, re-contexualising and re-mixing elements of popular culture and art history. He has also explored humour and smut. He seemed like an exemplary candidate for starting the Artist of the Week thread on MaC.

Let's begin with a selection from Prince's 'Gangs' series. 'Girlfriends' are taken from underground motorcycle magazines such as 'Easyriders' and pay homage to biker culture and "sex&drugs&rock&roll" in general. Any of the original erotic intentions of the biker photographer snapping his girlfriend striking a pose have been stripped away. What was shabby and tawdry to begin with now looks bleached and pathetic. It's usually a menage-a-trois between the biker, his hog and the girlfriend, in that order. Lust has given way to entropy. It's grim not sexy.

Here context is everything. The difference in placing the image in a greasy Levis jacket pocket, a magazine page, a gallery wall, a catalogue or online crosses a vast range of class and cultural boundaries. And so shall Mounds and Circles.

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