Private Collection, Cologne
Phillips de Pury & Company, London, Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 29 June 2008, Lot 220
Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, (and travelling), Richard Prince, 1992-93, p. 122, illustrated in colour (installation view in the artist’s studio)
Richard Prince, Richard Prince: Adult, Comedy, Action, Drama, New York 1995, p. 193, illustrated (installation view in the artist’s studio)
Exh. Cat., Zurich, Kunsthalle Zürich, Richard Prince, Paintings, 2002, p. 81, illustrated in colour (installation view in the artist’s studio)
Exh. Cat., New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, (and travelling), Richard Prince: Spiritual America, 2007, pp. 112-13, illustrated in colour (installation view in the artist’s studio)
Adding to the stylistically nostalgic and slightly racy cartoon images, Prince has replaced the punch lines with classic jokes taken from the annals of so-called Borscht Belt humour – the rapid-fire, self-deprecating shtick of Jewish comedians from upstate New York, a comedic legacy that spans the Three Stooges to Richard Lewis. “What a kid I was…” is a typical opener for ‘bad luck’ jokes, and keys into an antiheroic mentality that reflects the overall bathetic tenor of Prince’s practice. Where the earlier New Yorker pencil drawings copied verbatim the image and its accompanying text, the cartoon works reproduce an interchangeable series of disparate images and jokes, intentionally heightening the incongruence between the two elements to disturb their familiarity. By elevating the most banal witticisms to the level of the sublime, Prince plays off the disjunction between language and image, creating mutable pictorial narratives that insistently map the humorous, erotic, and even macabre nature of the American psyche.
What a Kid I Was #2 represents a significant transitional moment in Prince’s practice and accompanies the Monochrome Joke paintings, works that hold a seminal position within his oeuvre. Dropping the pictorial element of the cartoons to focus on the punch line, the Monochrome Joke works are silkscreened individual jokes on uninflected planes of colour, their compositional sparsity functioning as the antithesis of contemporaneous Neo-Expressionist painting. As the artist later recalled: "The subject is radical – the idea of taking 'jokes' as a pictorial theme was really new, a virgin territory, untested waters. To draw them and then present them as your own art was to ask for a lot of understanding from the public. The materials used – canvas, stretcher, paint – were very traditional. That's the discipline" (Richard Prince quoted in: Exh. Cat., Paris, Galerie Patrick Seguin, Richard Prince, 2008, p. 83). Through these works, now recognised as Prince’s sardonic anti-masterpieces, the artist takes on the heroic posturing of traditional painting.
Prince’s manipulation of art to subversive ends remains his lasting legacy. As Glenn O’Brien notes, “[His] art is really, really funny. It slays me. That’s what I like about it. It’s funnier than almost anything because it is so serious. When it comes to funniness, the more serious the setup the bigger the payoff and nothing is more deadpan than art” (Glenn O’Brien quoted in: ibid., p. 109).
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