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.
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.
Online Registration to Bid is Closed for this Sale. Would you like to watch the live sale?Watch Live Sale