Lot 43
  • 43

Richard Prince

180,000 - 250,000 GBP
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  • Richard Prince
  • Untitled (cowboy)
  • signed, dated 1987 and numbered AP on the reverse
  • Ektacolor print
  • 58.5 by 39cm.; 23 by 15 3/8 in.
  • This work is the artist's proof aside from an edition of 2.


Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York

Acquired directly from the above by the present owner 


Exhibition Catalogue, Miami, Rubell Family Collection, American Dream: Collecting Richard Prince for 27 Years, 2004-05, p. 56, no. 15, illustration of another example in colour


Colour: The colour in the catalogue illustration is fairly accurate, although the overall tonality is slightly cooler in the original. Condition: This work is attached verso to the backing board in several places. This work is in very good condition. Close inspection reveals some very minor undulation to the sheet.
"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. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Executed in 1987, Untitled (cowboy) is a superbly theatrical and early example of Richard Prince’s most famed body of work. By re-appropriating images from Marlboro advertisements and presenting them unbranded, blown-up to the point of pixelation and refocused, Prince not only challenges the nature of photography and its authorship but more importantly deconstructs and interrogates romanticised images that have shaped American identity. The archetypal symbol of the all-American male – the cowboy – sits astride his horse to survey the terrain, glancing from underneath his wide-brimmed Stetson. Mythologised, glamorised and proliferated by Hollywood films and advertising campaigns, the stereotype of ideal masculinity in the form of the strong and lonesome cowboy became a carefully marketed icon readily available for consumption in the American collective imagination. A picture of John Wayne-esque masculinity, Prince’s re-framing of the Malboro campaign is nothing short of cinematic.

Belonging to the moment Prince first took on the Marlboro campaign, this piece was created at a crucial time when the company’s advertorial 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 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 epitomises Prince’s utterly ground-breaking appropriationist strategies.

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 at a time when their predecessors had already stripped the art-making process from its representational, durational and even material constraints. Instead, as part of an image-saturated, highly commercialised culture, Prince and his contemporaries directly took on the vernacular that characterised their generation. Faced with an abundance of pre-existing pictures, Prince “never thought of making anything new”; as he has stated, “I am very much against making anything new in a modernist approach” (Richard Prince in conversation with Noemi Smolik 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. As outlined by Nancy Spector, “Prince’s appropriations of existing photographs are never merely copies of the already available. Instead, they extract a kind of photographic unconscious from the image, bringing to the fore suppressed truths about its meaning and its making” (Nancy Spector, 'Nowhere Man' in: Exhibition Catalogue, New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Richard Prince: Spiritual America, 2007, p. 26).

Re-presented through Prince’s frequently subversive and inquisitorial lens, the present work and its counterparts apply multivalent layers of fresh meaning and interpretation to an all-pervading cigarette ad-campaign. Rosetta Brooks notes of Prince’s photographic work that “by re-photographing commercial images that were clearly made-up fictions for selling products to the public, Prince, acting as a fine artist, makes originals that are more authentic than the originals. He takes control of an already controlling (deliberately manipulative) image in the process of re-photographing it…” (Rosetta Brooks, ‘A Prince of Light or Darkness’ in: Rosetta Brooks, Jeff Rian and Luc Sante, Eds., Richard Prince, London 2003, p. 38). Re-photographed and scrutinised 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.