Lot 47
  • 47

RICHARD PRINCE | Untitled (Cowboy)

1,200,000 - 1,800,000 USD
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  • Richard Prince
  • Untitled (Cowboy)
  • chromogenic print
  • 82 3/8 by 70 1/8 in. 209.2 by 178.1 cm.
  • Executed in 2013, this work is the artist's proof from an edition of two plus one artist's proof.


Gagosian Gallery, New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 2013

Catalogue Note

Evoking the grandeur and theatricality of cinema, Richard Prince’s Untitled (Cowboy) belongs to his Cowboy series, the most well-known and conceptually attuned body of work in the artist’s oeuvre. Prince embarked on his eminent series in 1980 by re-photographing Marlboro cigarette advertisements. The resulting images, akin to Marcel Duchamp’s readymades, use appropriation tactics to subvert conventional notions of authenticity and artistic production. Furthermore, by deliberately re-contextualizing these ubiquitous commercial images, Prince initiates a deconstructionist unearthing of the complex matrix of meanings that constitute mass media. Thus, Untitled (Cowboy), a seemingly banal image with its Romantic portrayal of a cowboy and his horse striding along a prototypical western landscape, becomes the basis of Prince’s postmodern interrogation. The work, which reveals the artist’s unique panache for decoding contemporary consumerist culture, makes him one of the most radical artists to have emerged in the late twentieth century. Depicting a lone cowboy atop a horse amidst a bright landscape of saturated blue sky and golden amber fields, the present work commands incredible presence in its larger-than-life scale and brilliant richness of color. Devoid of any logos or commercial text, Untitled (Cowboy) urges viewers to focus on the mythic cowboy that dominates the work’s composition. The central subject, a representation of the quintessential Marlboro man, symbolizes the masculine idealism and pioneering Americanism that originated in the Westward expansion of the nineteenth century. Lighting up a cigarette while riding through the Western landscape, the subject of this photo embodies the myth of the Marlboro man with great authority and irresistible bravado. During this period in American history, the rapid development of the cattle industry engendered a hyper-macho, and predominantly white, cowboy culture. This sub-culture was incorporated into politics and the popular imagination through regular portrayals in American movies and television. Eventually, the main subject of Untitled (Cowboy), a gun-slinging lone-ranger, came to be synonymous with the American Dream, personifying independence, freedom and authenticity. These deeply embedded symbolic associations made it an attractive marketing tool, especially for Marlboro’s primary male audience. However, during the period in which Prince started appropriating the Marlboro iconography, the cowboy had evolved into a tabooed symbol, due to its associations with smoking and lung cancer. Viewed in through this socio-historical lens, Prince’s Untitled (Cowboy) dissects the dual, mask-like quality of the cowboy image, exposing the mythological and sacred signifiers that hide behind its idyllic surface. According to art writer, Rosetta Brooks: “If, at first glance, his images appear mundane – even banal – it may be because we can no longer recognize the significance of apparent trivia in a culpably secular society. But a closer examination of Prince’s art finally forces us to contemplate the idea that, in a secular society, what we may have delegated to the trivia of everyday life could well embody that which is sacred.” (Rosetta Brooks, “Spiritual America: No Holds Barred," Exh., Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art (and travelling), Richard Prince, 1992, p.101).

Five decades on, the cowboy motif still features prominently in Prince’s oeuvre. Employing new digital tools to re-photograph his images, Prince is able create larger scale works, like Untitled (Cowboy), that more accurately reflect the wide expanse of the depicted arid landscapes. Simultaneously functioning as a critique of commodification, a semiotic analysis of contemporary American culture and a nostalgic musing on a mythic past, Untitled (Cowboy) showcases Richard Prince’s revolutionary ingenuity, setting a new precedent for the critical potentiality of post-conceptual art.