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Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

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London

Richard Prince
B. 1949
UNTITLED (COWBOY)
signed, dated 1997 and numbered 1/2 
Ektacolour photograph
image: 126.4 by 193 cm. 49 3/4 by 76 in.
sheet: 126.8 by 217.2 cm. 49 7/8 by 85 1/2 in.
Executed in 1997, this work is number 1 from an edition of 2, plus 1 artist's proof.
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Provenance

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

Catalogue Note

Executed in 1997, Richard Prince’s large-scale photograph Untitled (Cowboy) presents a sensationalised scene: an all-American cowboy, replete with Stetson hat and lasso rope, rides bareback into the wind, a team of wild, galloping horses at his side. Man and beast alike are shrouded in silhouette against a dramatic and celestial blue sky, streaming with iridescent light and framed, to the left, by a tree of impressive stature. The work comes from Prince’s celebrated and critically acclaimed Cowboy series, first initiated by the American artist in the early 1980s when he became fascinated by the glamorous Marlboro cigarette advertisements which starred, as their rugged and weathered hero, the iconic Marlboro Man. A wistful idealisation of America’s Wild West, this handsome and nostalgic old-time character featured as an aspirational role model for men, and a symbol of desire for women. By the mid-1960s he was so synonymous with the brand that Marlboro were able to drop all direct references to cigarettes and invite their audience to become a part of the epic Western landscape of 'Marlboro Country' through a more subtle and calculated means. Wholly pervasive and wildly successful, the advertising campaign ran from 1954 until its controversial demise in the early 1980s, when the link between cigarettes and lung cancer became increasingly stark. Significantly, it was at this very moment that Prince began to re-photograph the Marlboro Man, amplifying his image and cropping out all text to cast him as the appropriated protagonist of his own spectacular and seductive photographs.

Cinematic in composition and scale, Prince’s photographic style is imbued with a timeless Hollywood opulence that draws from America’s rich history of film-making in order to address notions of mythmaking, machismo and nostalgia that operate at the deepest level of our consumer-driven and image-saturated contemporary world. Drawing from the tradition of artists such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, Prince engages with advertising, appropriating its most recognisable images in order to question how the media dictates, displays and distorts the representation of reality for use as a seditious marketing tool. In the Cowboy series, Prince explores one of the great emblems of American culture – the cowboy – enlarging his readymade image to the status of high art. By removing the commercial slogans and logos from the Marlboro advertisements, Prince at once celebrates the artistry and slick production values of these images whilst simultaneously underlining the visual force of consumer culture and the constructed nature of cultural mores. In so doing, he exposes the figure of the cowboy as a Hollywood trope, dramatised, glamorised and romanticised in order to entice public consumption: “the bland normality of his Cowboy series,” writes Rosetta Brooks, “is like an outrageous celebration of the universal mythology of the Wild West” (Rosetta Brooks, ‘Spiritual America: No Holds Barred’ in: Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Richard Prince, 1992, p. 95).

The technique of re-photography, employed by Prince in the Cowboy series, became popular in the late 1970s. Other appropriation artists, including Louise Lawler, Cindy Sherman and Barbara Kruger, rose to prominence in the East Village, New York, in the 1980s alongside Prince. These artists were greatly influenced by John Baldessari and Robert Heineken, who had worked with found or readymade print photography since the 1960s. In lifting and re-contextualising the image of the Marlboro Man as his own in Untitled (Cowboy), Prince grapples with pre-existing constructs of artistic creation whilst simultaneously seeking to unravel and reveal the culturally loaded and constructed nature of mass media images. As the curator Nancy Spector attests, “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: Exh. Cat., New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Richard Prince: Spiritual America, 2007, p. 26). Foregrounding the complex language of power at work in readymade images, Untitled (Cowboy) scrutinises the constructed cultural values at stake in the visual make-up of America.

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

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London