Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Art: Richard Prince at the Guggenheim

As I rounded the top curl of the spiralling catwalk at the Guggenheim, I wandered away from the wall of shitty paintings and peered over the railing to the dark disk of lobby stories below, buzzing with milling bodies. I wondered what it would be like to go over and fall down; I felt a woozy and detached curiosity. Yes, Richard Price makes me want to die.

The show is a retrospective flaunting his "appropriation" (abuse?) of popular culture, including his photographs of advertisements (perhaps you are familiar with the Marlborough men?) and large-canvas "paintings" on which are stencilled semi-wry jokes (a few of these paintings, on close inspection, are comprised of tiny collaged bits of pornographic pictures, which have been partially painted over. I say, if you're going to use pornography, go with it, and don't try to hide it.) The museum's website calls Prince's appropriation a "deceptively simple act," but I would argue that, like Sherry Levine, who no doubt took her cue from him, the act of rephotographing another photograph is simply deceptive; it appears to be art, but it isn't.

I haven't a thing against appropriation itself. Andy Warhol is one of my five favorite artists (and I don't blame him for instigating this entire mess, though others do). I wrote my graduate thesis on photographers who appropriate the compositions of famous paintings. These photographers, though, make their work. They scout locations, find models, make costumes, and don make-up to recreate images to which we are accustomed, including some crucial asymmetries by which their art comments on the original. They also do post-production work in photoshop, and might print their photographs on canvas, painting over them to add texture.

I wasn't thinking about these artists, though, at the show. I was only thinking that Prince wasn't responsible for the best aspects of his work—he didn't write the jokes; he didn't take the glorious open plain photographs of the cowboys; he didn't write or draw the comics that he emblazoned across his canvases. I wondered why he bothered at all, and why any of us bothered, if this was good enough for one of the world's top art institutions. Meanwhile, the line to get in (and out of the rain) had grown even longer, wrapping around the block. When I left the museum, I fought a strong impulse to warn the crowds that the show wasn't worth their hour wait, much less $18 admission (I, as always, had gotten in free with my AAM card; very few museums, I find, are worth paying for, and the best ones—the Met, for example, or the National Gallery—are free).

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