Retrospective of an art thief

American artist Richard Prince is an art thief, a pilferer of other people's images.

greenmeadow art 88 224 (photo credit: )
greenmeadow art 88 224
(photo credit: )
Richard Prince, an American artist in his 60s now being honored with a retrospective at New York's Guggenheim Museum, is virtually unknown in Israel, though he has been widely exhibited in America, Germany and Switzerland for more than three decades. Prince is an art thief, a pilferer of other people's images. However his view of America, its art and mores, is expressed in both visual and textural jokes worked into the paint. Most are corny, but several caused me to burst out laughing. Prince's forte weds the Warhol approach with the catchlines of Jenny Holzer and Barbara Krieger, the latter the first to pilfer billboard advertising to make a satirical point. But unlike his predecessors, Prince is also a skilled painter in the abstract expressionist tradition. Nevertheless, his meticulous canvases do not add up to anything minus their jokey texts. At the Guggenheim, exhibitions start at the bottom, making you hike all the way to the top. I always take the elevator to the top gallery and then walk down - and back in time. The top gallery is filled with Prince's most recent and powerful works. One theme is devoted to nurses, the other to the images of women stolen from the paintings of Willem de Kooning. Both themes suggest terror. Prince steals the images of his nurses from pulp magazine covers, then enlarges and transfers them to large canvases via ink-jet printing, a method employed by a number of Israeli artists. Prince then paints nurse caps and surgical masks on the young ladies, the masks adding a note of menace, while wildly overpainting most of the images with bold gestural strokes. The effect is nearer early Robert Rauschenburg than Warhol. The results are powerful, but ultimately slight. The faces of the pseudo de Koonings add a more ominous note, particularly as they are attached to porno images filched from hard-core magazines. Prince turns some of them into hermaphrodites. These works are deeply unsettling on several levels. But above all it is sad to see the language of de Kooning's brilliantly original images exploited for shock value in an act of cynical piracy. Prince's painted fiberglass sculptures scattered throughout the show have been cast from the hoods and bonnets of vintage American cars. Best are the ones hung as friezes, the lighting revealing the subtle elegance of their stylings. The curator has entitled this show Spiritual America. Its images include Marlboro-type cowboys and the topless girlfriends of bikers. These too are stolen from other photographers. Prince comes off as vulture feasting on the carcasses of American cultural icons.