Richard Prince: Portraits

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Richard Prince: Portraits
Image courtesy Gagosian Gallery. Photo: Stuart Burford

This show is both ★★★★★ and/or ★

You’re probably not going to like this. Not many people do. In fact, you could say that the art world is all in a tizzy about American provocateur Richard Prince’s latest series of works. And you can see why – all he’s done is screen-grab other people’s Instagram posts and print them on to canvases. It’s okay to wince. So far, he’s been accused of sexism, theft, greed, copyright infringement and generally being a sweaty-palmed old fart. All of which are pretty bang on. But that’s only half the story.

Let’s start with what’s wrong with this small show. Under each Instagram picture, Prince has posted a cryptic sentence relating to the image. So 0/10 for effort, really. A lot of the pics feature attractive underdressed women and a lot of Prince’s comments are lascivious. And these aren’t exactly pretty works: the images are low-res, not that interesting and he’s selling them for thousands of dollars to clueless banker types who are desperate for a bit of down-with-the-kids trophy art.

Which leads us to the good. Prince totally knows what he’s doing, and these are breathtakingly confrontational works. In a world of pointless, fleeting fame and notoriety, these portraits have caused an aesthetic upset of immense proportions. And, in a world of ultra-dense, hyper-philosophical art, they’re dumb and require little explanation. They’re massive ‘fuck yous’ to copyright law, to ownership, to overblown conceptualism. They kick against the pricks, and it’s awesome.

And there are links here with past Prince portraits: they fit neatly into the canon of this important and very naughty American artist. Yes, they’re stupid, sexist, awkward, bad pieces of aesthetic theft. They suck. But they’re also clever, passionate, aggressive and confrontational. This is basically the absolute worst and the absolute best exhibition in town.

Eddy Frankel

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