For this exhibition, Richard Prince has collected publicity photographs of celebrities that he purchased from catalogues and specialty stores. Each work consists of the careful arrangement of publicity photographs. Some of the compositions also include other collectibles such as buttons, album covers, and records as well as Prince’s own photographs and drawings. In merging his own work and the publicity materials, Prince confronts our obsessions with celebrity, identity, originality, authorship, and ownership, and confirms that ours is the culture of the copy.
Since the beginning of his career, Prince has adressed such issues as real vs. counterfeit and original vs. copy. In the 1970s and 80s, he gained attention for appropriating photographs found in magazines by re-photographing the images directly from the source, such as fashion photographs and Marlboro cowboys. He also placed similar images of people or objects found in magazines side by side, evidencing their uncanny resemblances.
The publicity series is an extension of this practice that was begun 25 years ago. Juxtaposing publicity photographs with real and forged signatures, Prince calls attention to the status of the signature itself as a mark of authenticity. The signature of the celebrity in particular holds superior status as a personal link from the fan to the icon. Prince has reminded us that “a lot of people wish they were someone else”.
The artist furthers the layers of conceptual complexity by adding his own “real” work to the compositions, drawings and photographs. However, Prince continues his practice of subverting the authority of the name: just when we are sure that a drawing is his own, we discover that it is signed by someone else. Further to this, his own photographs are appropriated, and the publicity images are purchased.
Prince’s virtuosity in seducing the viewer with humor and familiar images “make[s] you squirm a bit as you try to come to grips with it’s complex program and submerged logic”, as David Ross has said. In the end, Prince leaves us to question identity in all of its manifestations, as these works inform us about ourselves as much as they do about our culture.
On this body of work Prince has said: “I usually have only a vague idea about who the celebrities are… In a sense I was substituting myself for someone who’d want to be [the celebrity].”