Sadie Coles HQ, London
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2000
Hanover, Kestner-Gesellschaft Hannover, Richard Prince: Photographien 1977-1993, June - July 1994, p. 97, no. 49, illustrated in colour (edition no. unknown)
Lima, MATE - Museo Mario Testino, Somos Libres, October 2013 - April 2014
Exh. Cat., New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (and travelling), Richard Prince: Spiritual America, September 2007 - September 2008, p. 157, illustrated in colour (edition no. unknown)
Submitted to the pages of these magazines by their readers, these photographs convey a gung-ho machismo at its most desperate. They are an attempt at imagining the ‘free spirited’ life on the road, the spirit of the American West seen from behind two wheels. Yet the photos are destined for the homes of middle American dentists and doctors: Sunday riders indulging in the fantasy of the outlaw. It is here, in this irony, that Prince works to present us with the false realities behind the American Dream. For the biker is late twentieth century reincarnation of the cowboy, and much like the cowboy, the biker is a life led by a few but imagined by a nation. Draped across a Harley Davidson like an animal skin, this anonymous ‘girlfriend’ is no more than an accessory to the crime. She is eroticised but no more so than his bike. She is a symbol of rebellion, but more a symbol of repression. This is homemade American sex appeal drawn from the cult of the girl-next-door.
So is Prince a feminist? Not in the most literal sense, but perhaps by consequence. Though his focus is perhaps more existential, these works carry criticism as much as they understand the complicity behind their creation. Both the male and female protagonists in these photos know what they are doing. Indeed, Prince has been vocal on the less than passive role the girlfriends play in this series – he views it as a moment of fame, a snapshot of independence controlled by a larger American cultural framework dominated by men. Has this culture changed? Interviewed for the Guggenheim’s 2007 Richard Prince retrospective, Dave Nichols, the editor of Easy Rider noted, “now we are getting the same kind of pictures, but instead of it being the girlfriend on the boyfriend’s bike, it’s the girlfriend on her own bike (Dave Nichols cited in: Glenn O’Brien, ‘All I’ve Heard’, in: Exh. Cat., New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (and travelling), Richard Prince: Spiritual America, 2007, p. 293).
Leading on from Cowboys and leading on to his Nurse paintings, Prince’s Girlfriends are an important juncture in his work. While Cowboys asserts a specifically masculine take on the American Dream and the Nurses a specifically female one, Girlfriends occupy the liminal space or relationship between the two. As Nancy Spector notes; “if his various appropriated subjects are indeed surrogate self-portraits, as he has admitted, they are ‘almost him’ – then the Girlfriends and Nurses have to be read in tandem with the Cowboys” (Nancy Spector, ‘Nowhere Man’ in: ibid, p. 53). The notion that Prince’s technique of appropriation works as mirror to his own understanding of maleness is well known. Yet in shining light on himself, Prince in turn addresses the very system that created his masculinity – America.
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