In the 1970s there was a decisive shift in the way an image was perceived. Where Pop Art had celebrated advertising imagery, Punk culture subverted it. Everything was up for grabs, and with piracy and stealing very much in the air, artists set about appropriating existing images in order to challenge the romantic idea of originality. It became known as appropriation art, and the poster boy for the movement was Richard Prince.
Prince attended Nasson College in Maine before moving to New York in the early 1970s where he worked for the cuttings service of Time Life publications. There he had access to thousands of cut-up magazines in which only the advertisements remained intact. He began to rephotograph these pictures and compose his own artworks from the well-known imagery, updating Pop Art’s ironical celebration of consumerism and its icons.
The first re-photograph of this kind was Untitled (couple) (1977), which depicted an elegant man and woman possibly dressed in the fashions of the 1960s. With their shiny faces and dated clothes, they appeared uncanny, almost ghost-like. Prince went on to appropriate and re-present images from advertising that captured the American cultural zeitgeist: the Marlboro Cowboy, Cadillacs, soft porn, motorcycle gangs. In the mid-1980s he began redrawing jokes from The New Yorker. Like the advertising images, the jokes reflected cultural tastes, prejudices and social concerns.
In recent years Prince has created art in a variety of mediums including film, installation, painting and architecture. He is one of America’s best-known artists and was honoured with a retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1992.
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