- Richard Prince
- Untitled (Cowboys 4)
- signed, numbered 2/2 and dated 1987 on the reverse
- ektacolour print
- 218.5 by 119.3cm.; 86 by 47in.
Fredrik Roos Collection
Palm Collection, London
Per Skarstedt Fine Art, New York
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner
Hannover, Kestner-Gesellschaft, Richard Prince: Photographien 1977 - 1993, 1994, p. 67, no. 26, illustrated in colour
The Cowboy is the quintessentially American symbol. At once representing freedom, lonesome independence and chivalry, this handsome and rugged ideal of masculinity embodies an utterly mythical construct: elevated from his original Hispanic roots and position as a lowly ranch-hand, the imagination of Hollywood and hyped-up masculine performances by Clint Eastwood and John Wayne transformed the Cowboy into a signifier for both male and female desire. Indeed, it was the Cowboy’s utter universality that made him the perfect vehicle for marketing Marlboro’s filtered cigarettes, not only to women but also to men. Nancy Spector has observed: “He is instantly recognisable in his requisite dress of denim, leather chaps, boots, spurs, and Stetson hat. Both a role model and sex symbol, the cowboy appeals to men and women alike.
His hyped, exaggerated masculinity has also made him a gay icon, a fact no doubt embraced by Philip Morris, whose desired demographic knows no bounds: a smoker is a smoker, regardless of gender, age, race, or sexual orientation” (Nancy Spector, 'Nowhere Man', Exhibition Catalogue, New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Richard Prince, 2007, p. 34). Representing a host for incongruent and somewhat contradictory desires – an iconography contemporaneously stage-managed by ‘Cowboy-President’ Ronald Reagan’s government – Richard Prince’s appropriation of the ‘Marlboro Man’ scrutinises these multiple layers of signification.
Prince first identified his subject at a crucial time when Marlboro’s use of the Cowboy had already been abandoned. Throughout the 1980s food, drugs, alcohol and sex had become targets for polemical self-reproach following an increasing climate of antismoking campaigns and health scares: at the heart of the antismoking controversy was the ‘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 profoundly inauthentic. Founded in the excesses and opulence of a decade devoted to materialism and illusion, Untitled (Cowboys 4) delivers a groundbreaking scrutiny of our culture’s increasing attraction to staged glossy spectacle over authentic lived experience, and epitomises Prince’s utterly ground-breaking appropriationist strategies.