Richard Prince at the Guggenheim
It's always good to have an excuse to head back to the Guggenheim... I love walking down the ramp (yes, I go backward), the art nicely contained within—and framed by—the vestibules, that comfortable feeling of expansive space behind you. Anyway, it had been about a year since my last visit, so a couple of weeks ago I took advantage of the museum's "pay-what-you-wish" Friday evening deal and saw the big Richard Prince retrospective, Spiritual America.
First, let me say this: the show's title has little if anything to do with the subject matter in any sort of overt way. I was afraid that the work would be a lot of fish-in-a-barrel attacks on money-seeking evangelicals and the like, but Spiritual America is actually a good deal more broad and interesting than that: it's both the name of one of Prince's most famous pieces, an appropriated image of 14-year-old Brooke Shields, above; and, in the far-more-articulate-than-I-could-be words of the museum's liner notes, sums up "the powerful conflicting impulses that characterize American culture: the deeply ingrained Puritan ethos countered by a desperate and often degrading desire for recognition."
Prince is most known for his appropriations—photographing images from magazines, mostly advertisements, then enlarging, re-cropping, framing, and selling for thousands of dollars—and there are plenty of examples here of that work. My favorites among these were from the Fashion and the Girlfriends series (taken from the long-running feature in Easy Rider magazine, for which guys would send in "sexy" pictures of their woman and their bike), both above; and the great Women Looking Left, below.
There are also (too) many of his Joke and Check paintings here, in which bad Borscht-belt one liners are, in the latter, put into grids of blank checks, or old porno pics, and then painted over. These are engaging, because the jokes can't help but elicit a smile, and I'm always a sucker for art that incorporates typography, but it does get repetitive.
But what I liked perhaps most of all was Prince's Upstate series—straightforward photographs taken near a small town in upstate New York—of forlorn man-made structures left to rot in their scrubby landscape. Abandoned dreams, creeping poverty, grinding despair... these pieces are simple, evocative, powerful.
As always, I apologize for the lameness of my surreptitiously taken photographs. Richard Prince: Spiritual America is at the Guggenheim through January 9. Adult admission to the museum is $18, except on Fridays between 5:45 and 7:15, when the place stays open late and you can pay whatever you want. I wanted: $3. Given the special deal and the fact that it was the show's opening night, I was pleasantly surprised that the museum did not feel crowded.