The Ingredients of Richard Prince’s Success

It makes sense that Deutsche Bank is sponsoring

the Richard

Prince retrospective at the Guggenheim. Prince is the ultimate art-world

hot commodity: he was the first artist to break the $1 million barrier for a

photograph, one of his cowboy photos sold

for $2.8 million in the spring auctions, and Linda Sadler reported

in June that his new paintings sell for between $5 million and $7 million. That

prompted me to call

a bubble, but Sadler sees Prince as a

real blue-chip:

Like Dow stocks, artists such as de Kooning, Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat

and Richard Prince are relatively easy to buy and sell and have abundant collectors.

Many artists resemble speculative Nasdaq companies that may disappear when

the bubble bursts, said a hedge-fund manager who declined to be named.

I don’t believe that Prince’s new paintings are selling for $5 million each:

cut that number in half and I think you might be closer to reality. But even

at $2 million apiece, Prince is clearly fetching sums for new canvases that

very, very few living artists can command.

There are two reasons for Prince’s art-market success. The first is that he

is a genuinely important artist: he took the idea of appropriation, which had

been an interesting theme in art running from Picasso through Duchamp to Warhol,

and stripped away everything else. By doing so, he became arguably the last-ever

artist to rise to prominence by challenging received notions of what art can

be, and he became enormously influential among younger contemporary artists.

To this day it is still hard for people to accept that a rephotographed advertisement

can be worth millions even as the advertisement itself remains worthless, as


But Prince’s art-historical importance is only part of the reason for his art-market

success and for the fact that there’s probably no other artist who would impress

Deutsche Bank’s hedge-fund-manager clients as much. Prince’s abiding influence

comes from his early work: what Roberta

Smith calls "hip, hermetic mind games" and "an esoteric mode".

That stuff, no matter how important, doesn’t really sell, not on its own: I

don’t see works by Art & Language selling for seven-figure sums at auction.

Prince, you see, moved on:

For all its elegance, the early work had a spindly endgame air that seemed

to disdain anything as touch-feely as making an actual art object. But that

is just what Mr. Prince proceeded to do, regularly introducing new subjects,

mediums and techniques.

By the time you reach the end of the show, and the art that Prince is producing

right now, you are immersed in painterliness. Everything that Prince once stripped

out has now been put back in, and his paintings have more in common with Francis

Bacon or Willem de Kooning than they do with the austere conceptualism of his

early work.

What a collector gets, then, when he buys one of Prince’s new Nurse paintings,

is a twofer: he gets art-world cachet on the grounds that this is a Richard

Prince, but he also gets a lovely painting which would look great above the

fireplace. Call it user-friendly conceptualism.

Prince is not the first conceptualist to have trodden the path from formal

early works to large and expensive and expressionistic later works. But when

the likes of Barry Flanagan and Frank Stella do it, they essentially become

trophy artists, making big works for corporate lobbies while losing most of

their credibility in the art world.

Prince, by remaining a little bit outré (a huge recent painting at the

beginning of the show is painted over a ground of pornographic black-and-white

bondage photos) has leapfrogged the corporate world to become a darling of the

even richer art-collector set. Deutsche Bank might be happy to sponsor "Spiritual

America", which is the title of the show. But it would never in a million

years buy "Spiritual America", the photograph after which the show

is named. And it’s precisely that frisson of edginess which has great appeal

to the likes of Stevie Cohen.

This entry was posted in art. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Ingredients of Richard Prince’s Success

  1. uggboots says:

    we know winter is very cold,we began ? We professional supply






    online,this winter the best way to keep your feet warm is to get a pair of ugg Boots.

  2. uggboots says:

    we know winter is very cold,we began ? We professional supply






    online,this winter the best way to keep your feet warm is to get a pair of ugg Boots.

Comments are closed.