Immersed in a sensual haze of midnight blue dispelling into ashen white, Richard Prince’s Park Avenue Nurse is a powerful example of the American artist’s celebrated series of Nurse Paintings (2002-2008). The striking protagonist of the present work is at once seductive and anarchistic, alluring and aloof, encapsulating Prince’s complex conceptual project which has long sought to challenge and subvert notions of authorship, authenticity and identity in art through his signature technique of appropriation. Executed in 2002, Park Avenue Nurse belongs to the original group of Prince’s Nurse Paintings that were created in the early 2000s, and exhibited to great critical acclaim in the artist’s 2003 show at Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York. Testament to its weighty import within Prince’s oeuvre, the present work was subsequently displayed in the artist’s seminal exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York in 2007, Richard Prince: Spiritual America. Inspired and appropriated from the titles and front covers of pulp romance novellas from the 1950s to 1980s, of which Prince has compiled an avid personal collection, the Nurse Paintings take as their subject the trope of the passive female nurse embroiled in an impossible love affair, which was popularized in American dime-store paperbacks from the mid to late twentieth century. Offering a transgressive scrutiny of such idealized modes of feminine portrayal, Prince’s Nurse Paintings simultaneously explore, exploit and contest the erotic stereotype and gender construct of the iconic blonde bombshell, which had previously been elevated to the realms of high-art by artists such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein.
In Park Avenue Nurse, Prince portrays a beautiful masked heroine with glamorous blonde hair, whose facial features have been almost entirely obscured by the white surgical mask plastered across her face. A motif consistent in the series, this mask presented Prince with a “way of unifying” these paintings whilst “also talking about identity.” (Richard Prince cited in: Natalie Shukur, ‘Richard Prince,’ Russh Magazine, 2014) Simultaneously seductive yet sinister, the Nurse Paintings create a compelling dichotomy that blurs the line between innocence and iniquity, active and passive, victim and aggressor. The present example is appropriated from the front cover of Adelaide Humphries’ pulp novel Park Avenue Nurse, written circa 1950. On the original cover – hand-painted by an anonymous pulp-artist – a sultry yet guarded nurse glances sideways as a male doctor stands purveying her from behind. Set above the two figures, the novel’s tagline reads: “From small town to big town – the excitement and conflict in the life of a young nurse who learned that true values and true love are the same everywhere.” (Adelaide Humphries, Park Avenue Nurse, circa 1950) All but subsumed by the opaque navy haze, the spectral trace of this narrative teaser faintly lingers in Prince’s rendition, yet the nurse’s love interest has been entirely obliterated from view. To create the composition, Prince first scanned then enlarged and transferred the original book cover onto the surface of his canvas using an inkjet printer – the hallmark vestige of his earlier oeuvre, first developed in the 1970s as part of the Pictures Generation. He then layered veils of acrylic paint atop this inkjet ground, ranging from stirring blues, greys and whites to vibrant scarlet hues to delineate the title of the composition, erasing nearly all of the original cover’s pictorial content to foreground the haunting figure of his female protagonist.
The Nurse Paintings are situated at the other end of a narrative arc that began with Prince's iconic Cowboys in the late 1980s. Replacing the masculine, heroic cowboy of his aloof re-photographed Marlboro advertisements, Prince’s provocative and almost hysterically portrayed female characters, borrowed from the world of trashy pulp-fiction, offer the antipode to these prescribed codes of macho-masculinity. In Park Avenue Nurse, the artist boldly reconsiders and re-evaluates with palpable maturity many of the themes prevalent to the Cowboys – from the manipulation of appropriated images and the glamor of mass culture to the mythologizing of gender roles and the death of the author – in an entirely innovative and markedly painterly manner. Possessing an unsettling yet magnetic noir-quality, the Nurse Paintings are similarly derived from the same countercultural precepts as the biker Girlfriends. Indeed, much like the Cowboys, the Girlfriends and Nurses conjure a retinue of desire and mine prescribed and trumped-up tropes of male desire and female objectification. In this vein, the present painting masterfully projects the polarity between desire and fear, vulnerability and violence, to the forefront of the artist’s appropriative agenda. Thwarting narrative constructs and authorial agency, Prince posits collective authorship as the means to confront and undo the codes of desire forged by consumer culture.
Prince is a bibliophile in the truest sense. A collector of rare editions, including everything from Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita through to early pulp-fiction and a wide range of memorabilia, Prince has amassed an extensive library of paperbacks printed between the years of 1949 (marking the year the artist was born and George Orwell’s 1984 was first published) and 1984 itself. Covering the gamut of iconic twentieth-century literature and published matter, Prince’s collection comprises items he feels a connection to, whether it be Jack Kerouac’s On the Road or a signed photograph of Debbie Harry; all of it, however, is rooted in Americana. Indeed, Prince’s compulsion to buy, collect, juxtapose, curate, and assemble all of the trappings of American popular culture lies at the very heart of his production, and particularly, the Nurse Paintings. In 2000, Prince started using this collected matter directly in his work with the first Publicity assemblages; framed and mounted, these works consist of images collated around a central theme – often comprising autographed publicity photographs of pin-ups and movie stars. Very much related to Prince’s earlier series of Gangs in which a pictorial universe of countercultural factions, encompassing magazine images of bikers and their girlfriends, monster truck enthusiasts, porn addicts, and muscle-car fetishists, was presented with archival objectivity, the Publicities possess a discerning taxonomical quality and exhibit the ephemera of conspicuous consumption and the cult of consumerism.
The Nurse Paintings are considered one of the most distinctive and highly prized series of Prince’s lauded career to date. While on the surface it is their sumptuous, fantastical, and seductive appearance that distinguishes them from the artist’s Joke paintings or Cowboy photographs, these three renowned series are in fact intimately connected through the equally firm roots they each take in the core ethos of Prince’s highly conceptual and pioneering practice. The pop appropriation that constitutes the essence of the Cowboy corpus is critical to the conception and execution of the Nurses; with his Joke paintings, these works share a dependence on borrowed text and kitsch humor. What is added here, to brilliant effect and with true bravado, is Prince’s riposte to Abstract Expressionism. Similarly enlivened with heady brushstrokes, drips and splatters, the Nurse Paintings pay homage to the techniques pioneered by the legendary group of Abstract Expressionist artists working to redefine the contemporary landscape in the exact same era the pulp novel was at the height of its popularity. Indeed, under the churning, unsettling marks of Prince’s brushstroke, the present work seems to recall Willem de Kooning’s bold and gestural painterly dynamism. Powerful, provocative and beautifully haunting, Park Avenue Nurse exemplifies the intoxicating and intellectual rigor of Prince’s ground-breaking practice.
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