[May 28 2015]
What does the internet do? The internet hates. Obviously, it does lots of other things, too — it jump-starts insurrections, appropriates, lusts, scrambles, loves cats, disrupts. But hating often seems like what the internet does best, especially when it’s got a good troll. And it’s done a lot of hating recently in response to Richard Prince’s semi-revolutionary, drop-dead simple, often salacious Instagram paintings. For these works, Prince has been called a dirty old man, creepy, twisted, a pervert. All of which may be true — but true in a great way, if that’s possible.
Thirty-seven of Prince’s New Portraits are now on view in the rear of Larry Gagosian’s store — yes, his fabulous ground floor Madison Avenue bookstore. Each is an inkjet image of someone else’s Instagram page — often a young girl posing semi-naked or maybe squatting to pee, laying on a gynecologist’s table, or taking a provocative selfie — and printed on canvasses measuring about six feet by four feet. Think of it as Prince taking his paradoxical way of appropriating and representing images to deeper digital and libidinal levels.
How easy are these pictures to make? Prince scrolls or trolls Instagram feeds. For hours. He’s a real wizard of his tastes; as honed to his needs as Humbert Humbert was to where Lolita was in the house. We could even say Prince invented our ability to notice some of the downmarket visual tropes that he’s looked for — motorcycle and muscle-car magazines, biker chicks. Now he’s turned to the ways people present themselves and their social groups to the world. Although none of the images are “his,” some of the portraits are people he knows. Fellow pictures artist Laurie Simmons is here; so is his old pal, writer and former Warhol Interview editor Glenn O’Brien, who recently wrote something that applies perfectly to Prince’s new portraits: “Andy always said the best look is a good plain look. Fashion is too vulgar.” Some of Prince’s portraits are celebrities like Pamela Anderson; most are strangers. (In truth, I spent last year wishing unsuccessfully he’d do me. Especially after I helped reinstate his Instagram page after it was taken down due to obscenity. Prince had posted his own Spiritual America, his famous appropriated Gary Gross picture of the young naked Brooke Shields.) Prince finds an image he likes, comments on it, makes a screen-grab with his iPhone, and sends the file — via email — to an assistant. From here, the file is cropped, printed as is, stretched, and presto: It’s art. Or stuff that’s driving others crazy for a variety of reasons.