NEW WAVE NEW BEAT: PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE NEW YORK COLLECTION
In the Nurse paintings, and in counterbalance to the Cowboys, Prince replaced his macho protagonists with a pantheon of provocatively crass and sexually charged femme fatales. Associated with low-brow American culture, Prince's choice of archetypes illuminates the artist’s interest in both personal and collective identity. The multivalent voices of the Cowboy, Girlfriend and Nurse, provide multiple readings of divergent personas via a masquerade of stereotypical characters. In this way, Prince engages with prescribed identities determined by social and cultural codes, and looks to both critique and celebrate the darker underbelly implicit within these constructed myths.
The Nurses were created by scanning and enlarging the cover of pulp-fiction hospital-based romance novels, objects that, for a professed bibliophile, held great fascination for Prince. These scanned images were printed onto canvas using an inkjet printer after which he manipulated the existing compositions by editing out secondary characters, obscuring text, and isolating female protagonists through scumbled and expressively applied layers of paint.
In New England Nurse #1, the illustrator’s original wholesome yet seductive image is disrupted by a stack of words that are by turns clinical, gory, and insalubrious. Prince subverts the stereotypical female ciphers of the mid-twentieth century and presents female sexuality as both desirable and perhaps empowered in her contamination. At the same, however, white paint is smeared across the nurse’s mouth and she is effectively gagged. Nonetheless, it is arguable that it is the sexualised persona given to her by her original illustrator that is silenced. The white paint thus becomes a powerful tool to convey Prince’s project of identity crisis in contemporary image culture: “I made a mistake painting all this white – this is when I say I get lucky… I realized that was going to be the contribution to the image, to put a mask on these various nurse illustrations. It was a way of unifying and also talking about identity” (Richard Prince, quoted in: Natalie Shukur, ‘Richard Prince,’ RusshMagazine, 2014, online). By masking the nurse’s mouth, he silences the desirability prescribed by the novel’s original illustration, thereby unmasking and challenging the ways in which society and culture has historically determined identity.
Across a diverse oeuvre that challenges modes of contemporary representation, Richard Prince has mined photographs, VHS tapes, art history and literature. He consumes, collects, and manipulates text and image, all for the sake of curating the trappings of American culture.
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