Lot 167
  • 167

Richard Prince

50,000 - 70,000 USD
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • Richard Prince
  • chromogenic print
chromogenic print, signed, dated, and editioned '1/2' in ink on the reverse, framed, a Baskerville+Watson, New York, label on the reverse, 1983


Phillips New York, 11 November 2005, Sale 1109, Lot 177


This print is in generally very good condition. When examined in raking light, a thin, uneven line of residue, possibly from processing, is visible running between and top and bottom edges in the center of the print.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

In 1980, Richard Prince began what would become his best-known, decades-long appropriation of images of the American cowboy, and the print offered here dates from the early years of this seminal series.   The Baskerville + Watson, New York, label on the reverse of the present photograph's frame is that of one of the artist's earliest dealers.  As is characteristic of Prince's early work, this print is small in format and from a very limited edition of two. Eventually the artist began to enlarge these Marlboro Man images to a range of mural sizes. 

Prince had been at Time Inc. since 1973, and his job in the Tearsheets department yielded abundant inspiration for his photographs.  Laboring in one of the sub-basement floors below the Time-Life building's lobby, Prince's sole (and solitary) function was to separate the advertisements page-by-page from the editorial content in multiple copies of the magazines so that articles were available to editors without extraneous paper. There was little danger that Prince would be disturbed in the secret studio he set up; the nearby rooms were for the most part storage areas, and he often worked the graveyard shift.  Beginning in 1977, he began to photograph, crop, and enlarge glossy magazine advertising images created by others, sans their associated texts—first of living rooms, then of VO whiskey labels, watches, and models as individuals and as couples—and appropriated them as his own.

The familiar stereotypical cowboys in these ads, appealing to a generation of viewers immersed in consumer imagery, seemingly represent the iconic American rugged individualist. These hyper-realized 'rephotographs,' however, with their visible half-tone dots and shifting color and contrast, raise the question of what is real—what are real cowboys, and what is real in the media.

Prince has said of his photography and the series,

'I had limited technical skills regarding the camera.  Actually, I had no skills.  I played the camera.  I used a cheap commercial lab to blow up the pictures.  I made editions of two.  I never went into a darkroom . . . what I did have was magazines.  I was working at Time Life and was surrounded by magazines.  I wanted to present the images I saw in these magazines as naturally as they first appeared.  Making a photograph of them seemed the best way to do it.  I didn't exactly "fall" [into photography] as much as steal' (interview with Steve LaFreniere for Artforum, March 2003).

'The cowboy for me is mostly a conceptual image; it's much more about the formal aspect and the presentation, where it started and where it ends up. . . I thought mostly about the function of the photograph, the way photographs are made. . . There was a point where I noticed that things had changed in the Marlboro ad.  They got rid of the famous guy, a certain model used to be in all the ads.  They took him out and started using other people.  That's when I went after it.  That's when I stole it.  I suppose it was an antisocial act.  No one was looking.  This was a famous campaign.  If you're going to steal something, you know, you go to the bank.  It's recognizing the implications of what surrounds the photograph. . . I know that within a certain community that image [the Marlboro Man] has become a kind of representation for what I do, but I don't know, I just sort of did it.  I mean I still think it was about how photography and certain media representations are like the Antichrist.  It gets me angry, some of these representations, the way that media manipulate and doesn't tell the whole story.  Cowboys don't tell the whole story at all, so it was just sort of perfect' (public conversation in 1992 with Brian Wallis at The Whitney Museum of American Art).

Prince left Metro Pictures, his first gallery, in 1982, and in 1983, joined the now-defunct Baskerville + Watson on West 57th Street.   In an interview with Paul Taylor in Flash Art, Prince remembered, 'When they [Baskerville + Watson, in late 1984] wanted to expand and get a big gallery, I think I left the next day.  They said, "You're going to be a big artist," and I left.'  Prince then resigned from his job in the tearsheets department at Time Inc., which had provided him with the raw material for his appropriations, and temporarily moved to Los Angeles.  The cowboys would indeed go on to make him the big artist that he initially feared becoming, when a 1989 image from this series became the first contemporary photograph to break the million-dollar mark in 2005.