This work was created at a crucial time when the Marlboro’s advertising campaign of the cowboy had already been abandoned. Throughout the 1980s, drugs, alcohol and sex had become targets for polemical self-reproach following an increasing climate of anti-smoking campaigns and health scares: at the heart of the anti-smoking controversy was the iconic Marlboro Man. Seeking to distance America’s ostensibly wholesome mythology from the increasingly negative connotations of smoking, Marlboro relinquished what is still considered by many today to be the most powerful advertising campaign in history. Re-photographed by Prince, the immensely potent image of the cowboy as a nostalgic, innocent and rugged projected cultural self-image is unveiled as both powerfully seductive and profoundly inauthentic. Founded in the excesses and opulence of a decade devoted to materialism and illusion, Untitled (Cowboy) delivers a scrutiny of our culture’s increasing attraction to staged glossy spectacle over authentic lived experience, and epitomizes Prince’s utterly ground-breaking practice of appropriation.
Along with his contemporaries from the Pictures Generation of the 70s and 80s, Prince belonged to a disillusioned group of young American artists who rose to prominence in an image-saturated, highly commercialized culture. Faced with an abundance of pre-existing pictures, Prince “never thought of making anything new.” (Richard Prince in Carl Haenlein, ed., Richard Prince, Photographs, 1977-1993, Hannover, 1994, p. 32) His relation to these image-readymades vacillates between Warholian fascination with pop-culture and criticism of the myths they propagate. Re-photographed and scrutinized by Prince, the immensely potent image of the cowboy as a nostalgic, innocent and rugged projected cultural self-image is unveiled as a finely tuned-construct and yet remains extraordinarily powerful and utterly irresistible.
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