Richard Prince Sucks

His show of Instagram printouts at Gagosian isn't just bad, it's sexist.

Klaus Biesenbach's Instagram photo of Richard Prince's artwork based on Kate Moss's Instagram photo.
Photo Klaus Biesenbach/Instagram.

Richard Prince has taken over the Gagosian showroom located behind their bookstore on Madison Avenue. He’s filled the space with 38 portraits, each 65 by 48 inches, taken from his Instagram feed. It’s a stark room populated by Internet pages, printed on canvas, enlarged, and hung tightly together. The most remarkable feature of the show is that the printouts are reflected perfectly in Gagosian’s shiny floor. Thin offerings for anyone who is in possession of a brain.

Among the Instagram posts Prince has selected are topless images of models (including Cara Stricker), artists posing suggestively (including Kay Goldberg), and salacious portraits of celebrities known for being pretty (including Pamela Anderson, Elizabeth Scarlett Jagger, and Kate Moss). Underneath the images and comments, Prince shares his thoughts. “Don’t du anything. Just B Urself © ®,” he advises Goldberg. I thought the copyright and registered trademark symbols were references to his own experiments in authorship that began back in 1975, but it’s probably not that deep.

Installation view of Richard Prince, "New Portraits," at Gagosian

Installation view of Richard Prince, “New Portraits,” at Gagosian
Photo: Paddy Johnson

In another image, he writes under young singer-songwriter Sky Ferreira’s portrait of herself in the passenger seat of a red sports car: “Enjoyed the ride today. Let’s do it again. Richard.” If she had a snide response to the leering comment, we never learn what it was. Like a true troll, Prince always gives himself the last word.

This kind of sexism isn’t okay, and in this exhibition it’s pervasive. Unlike his “Nurse” paintings, which simply purveyed sexist attitudes by sexualizing anonymous figures, neutering the subjects of his “New Portraits” of their ability to respond actively disempowers them. Not cool.

Installation view of Richard Prince, "New Portraits," at Gagosian

Installation view of Richard Prince, “New Portraits,” at Gagosian
Photo: Paddy Johnson

It should be clear from the two comments cited above that Prince is painfully removed from the youth culture in which he’s participating, which only extenuates the project’s problems. He makes up his own slang and signs his Instagrams online. It might be a self-aware gesture—it’s likely he’s had an assistant help him figure out who’s cool—but as artist Clayton Cubitt pointed out on Twitter, “Watching Richard Prince do Instagram is like watching your dad try to rap.” And thus, every time he leaves a comment, you wince a little with embarrassment. “All 47 likes are mine,” he quips glibly on his own post, a portrait of Linda Kristine leaning against a guardrail near the ocean in a black bra and tights.

What, exactly, is there to say about any of this? Virtually nothing. But that didn’t stop New York magazine critic Jerry Saltz from writing over 1,400 inexplicably fawning words on the subject. That article really bothered me; Saltz continually complains about the under-representation of women in the art world—most recently picking apart an issue of Artforum in which women artists were all but absent—yet somehow he found Prince’s blatant sexism worth championing because the artist is “a real wizard of his tastes.” Everyone is a wizard of her own tastes.

The rest of the press corps has found ways of covering the exhibition while discussing other subjects, including advertising, the meta-selfie, or the market. The New Yorker‘s Peter Schjeldahl bit the bullet and wrote about the work, only to conclude that the show made him wish he were dead. Kudos to Schjeldahl for calling it like it is.

Installation view of Richard Prince, "New Portraits," at Gagosian

Installation view of Richard Prince, “New Portraits,” at Gagosian
Photo: Paddy Johnson

Here’s what I’ve got by way of reflection: Prince likes images of breasts. We can trace appropriation precedents back to Warhol, and Prince as an early adopter, but who cares? Copy-paste culture is so ubiquitous now that appropriation remains relevant only to those who have piles of money invested in appropriation artists. The work on canvas looks about as good as you’d expect for a tiny, 72 DPI image, which is to say they are fuzzy and better viewed on a phone. There’s no apparent rationale for the sequencing of the installation.

Short story short: There’s no reason for the reproductions to exist, except to make Prince a little cash—the prints are apparently going for up to $100,000 a pop. This makes the show exceptionally vapid. Don’t go see it. Don’t ever buy the work.

Richard Prince’s “New Portraits” is on view at Gagosian through October 25.

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