Lot 31
  • 31

Richard Prince

1,200,000 - 1,800,000 USD
1,452,500 USD
bidding is closed


  • Richard Prince
  • Untitled (Cowboy)
  • signed, dated 1997 and numbered 1/2 on the reverse
  • Ektacolor photograph


Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York
Private Collection, Europe
Acquired by the present owner from the above


New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Minneapolis, Walker Art Center; and London, Serpentine Gallery, Richard Prince: Spiritual America, September 2007 - September 2008 (the present work) (New York only) 

Catalogue Note

“The image of cowboy is so familiar in American iconology that it has to become almost invisible through its normality. And yet the cowboy is also the most sacred and masklike of cultural figures. In both a geographical and cultural sense, a cowboy is an image of endurance itself, a stereotypical symbol of American cinema.”
Rosetta Brooks in Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art (and travelling), Richard Prince, 1992, p. 95

Cinematic in its majestic horizontal format, the panoramic Untitled (Cowboy) undeniably belongs among the most romantic works from Richard Prince’s emblematic series of Cowboys. Backlit by a gleaming sunset radiating through the cavernous spaces between canyons, the image stuns in its quixotic vision of the American west. Prince’s lone cowboy here is captured in the air mid-gallop, forging ahead with a strength and resolve that personifies a stereotypically American sense of hope and optimism. Beyond his dramatically defined silhouette, the figure is dwarfed by the grandeur of his environment—the light shines ecclesiastically through the gaping mountain gulfs, casting a sumptuously hazy amber glow on the vista that contrasts with the rich ochre ground. Re-photographed and scrutinized by Prince’s incisive lens onto American culture, the immensely potent image of the cowboy as a nostalgic, innocent and rugged projection is unveiled as a finely tuned construct and yet remains extraordinarily powerful and utterly irresistible.

The cowboy is the quintessential, ubiquitous American symbol. As a virile, handsome and paradigmatic icon of masculinity, he is the ultimate example of an industry-fabricated cultural construct, mythologized and distanced from his true historical origin. At once synonymous with freedom, lonesome independence and chivalry, the cowboy was elevated from his original roots as a lowly ranch-hand by the imagination of Hollywood and hyped-up macho performances by Clint Eastwood and John Wayne. Mythologized, glamorized 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. In the present work, the archetypal symbol of the all-American male – the cowboy – glides astride his horse into the terrain, glancing from underneath his wide-brimmed Stetson to connote power, control, and resolve.

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 romanticized images that shape American identity. Prince turns the lens back onto its own ontological authority in the production and circulation of myth. Prince’s fascination with advertising imagery began with a job as a nightshift worker in the tear-sheets department for Time-Life magazines in 1974. Tasked with clipping editorials for staff writers to use in their research, Prince ended up absorbed and enthralled by the detritus from his clippings. The artist re-photographed magazine ads featuring the Marlboro cowboy and stripped any particularizing elements that contextualized the image as an advertisement—logos, slogans, and cigarette packages were eliminated, leaving the image pure in its symbolic power. Re-envisioned by Prince, the cowboy is unveiled as both powerfully seductive and profoundly inauthentic. 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 in Exh. Cat., New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Richard Prince: Spiritual America, 2007, p. 26) A picture of John Wayne-esque masculinity, Prince’s re-framing of the Malboro campaign in this horizontal still is nothing short of cinematic. Disappearing into the sunset, the lone ranger forges onward in an epic spectacle that both fetishizes the heroism of its protagonist while toppling the very mechanisms that proliferate the myth.