Glenn O’Brien cited in New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Richard Prince, May - July 1992, p. 112.
Executed in 1992, I’m Not Linda belongs to Richard Prince’s seminal series of monochrome Joke Paintings which he began in 1987. For this iconic group of works, Prince fused the crass content of low-brow cartoon humour with the high-minded aesthetic of monochrome painting to create individual vignettes of arresting conceptual impact. Within this concise group, the present work tells a joke that is as amusing today as it was in 1992.
Emerging amongst the appropriation artists of the 1980s, Prince stood out owing to the distinctive coolness of his work. While many of the re-photographers of his generation were inspired by postmodern theories on authenticity and originality, Prince’s work alternatively reflected a decidedly American cultural influence through his fascination with cowboys, bikers, cars, and low-brow American humour. After his iconic series of Untitled (Cowboy) photographs of the early 1980s, in which Prince appropriated advertising imagery to comment on archetypes of the American dream, Prince looked to incorporate humour and jokes into his work. Like the found sources used for his photographs, the artist appropriated jokes found in cartoon-strips. As Prince has explained, these were initially turned into hand-drawn copies on paper: “Artists were casting sculptures in bronze, making huge paintings, talking about prices and clothes and cars and spending vast amounts of money. So I wrote jokes on little pieces of paper and sold them for $10 each” (Richard Prince cited in: Exh. Cat., New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Richard Prince: Spiritual America, 2007, p. 37).
Following the initial hand-written jokes and subsequent works in which cartoon images were silkscreened onto canvas, Prince soon embarked on a more radical approach that banished any form of illustration. Daring his viewers to take a lewd one-liner for a serious work of art, Prince began cataloguing found-jokes in 1985, stripping them down to their bare linguistic essentials. Shortly afterwards, these typed-out gags were turned into the iconic series of monochrome Jokes to which the present work belongs. Against backgrounds of flat strident colour, Prince silkscreened his san-serif jokes in contrasting hues. By presenting the very antithesis of the Neo-Expressionist style of painting that had come to dominate the late-1980s artistic milieu, the monochrome Jokes arrived as seditious and rebellious. Instead of opting for the expressive, gestural application of paint that was so lauded in contemporaneous taste, Prince silkscreened his jokes onto loosely painted monochrome surfaces to create works that simultaneously negated and substantiated the trace of artistic gesture. However, this is not to say that he did not consider them paintings. As he playfully remarked: “The ‘joke’ paintings are abstract. Especially in Europe, if you can’t speak English” (Richard Prince cited in: Exh. Cat., Oslo, Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Richard Prince: Canaries in the Coal Mine, 2006, p. 124).
I’m Not Linda confronts the viewer with a strangely puzzling juxtaposition of minimalist composition and silkscreened words. Although this can be read as a reference to postmodern linguistic theory, the work also points to two quintessentially American characteristics: hard-edge abstraction and popular humour. Cleverly subverting the clean and serious vernacular of abstract painting, the Jokes' amalgamation of low and high culture characterises Prince’s most important work. Wittingly parodying popular gags heard in everyday parlance, the artist found a way of incorporating a universal human condition – humour – into a deeply serious and resolutely intellectual form of artistic expression.
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