Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Evening Auction


Richard Prince
B. 1949
signed, titled and dated 1989 on the overlap 
acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
190.5 by 147.3cm.; 75 by 58in.
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Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York

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., Cologne, Museum Ludwig, Ars Promo Domo: Zeitgenössische Kunst aus Kölner Privatbesitz, 1992, p. 236, illustrated (installation view with the artist in the artist's studio)

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)

Catalogue Note

Executed in graphic, monochromatic silkscreen, What a Kid I Was #2 is archetypal Richard Prince: mining the idiomatic vernacular of American popular culture – here the facileness of dirty jokes and cartoons – in a powerful, conceptually-driven work whose schematic appearance belies its existential force. Prince first rose to prominence amidst the debates surrounding nascent post-modernism in the early 1980s New York art world, alongside fellow ‘Pictures’ artists like Cindy Sherman and Barbara Kruger, and his facility with found media imagery and text has consistently challenged notions of subjectivity, originality, and authorship. Beginning in 1984, Prince started to redraw cartoons from the New Yorker magazine in pencil on paper in typically deadpan style, yet ironically introduced a far greater sense of the personal, of the artist’s hand, into these ‘authorless’ Joke works: “I’m not associated with the hand… Beginning the jokes was like starting over” (Richard Prince quoted in: Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Richard Prince, 1992, p. 41). Developing these initial experiments, Prince continued to appropriate existing cartoons, focusing primarily on images of couples caught red-handed in moments of infidelity, enlarged and silkscreened onto canvas, as in the present work. These visual one-liners feature buxom women and cigar-smoking men appropriated from vintage Playboy magazines, which, like the New Yorker, was known for its sophisticated one-panel gags.

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).

Contemporary Art Evening Auction