Richard Prince

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Instagram, an artist and the $100,000 selfies – appropriation in the digital age
Richard Prince has turned borrowing online images into high art – and hard cash. But is the artist’s work anything other than genius trolling?
Hannah Jane Parkinson, Saturday 18 July 2015 05.00 EDT

It’s a question as old as art itself: “Yeah, but is it art?”

Type it into Google and get 1.26 billion results. It lends itself to book titles, television series and conversations between white walls, whetted by prosecco.

It’s a question asked of a shark in formaldehyde; an unmade bed; a sleeping footballer; two humans meeting in silence across a table, and before those of John Cage; Mondrian; Pollock.

This question, the distant cousin of “my kid could have done that”, has quietly endured.

The decibel levels rise, however, when it comes to appropriation. Appropriation is the practice of artists taking already existing objects and using them, with little alteration, in their own works. The objects could be functional, everyday objects, or elements of other art pieces; commercial advertising material, newspaper cuttings or street debris. Anything, really.

It’s interesting, though, that some appropriation in art is seen as acceptable in the public consciousness, some not. Warhol: of course. Sampling at the birth of hip-hop – well, sure. Found object art like Duchamp’s Fountain? Hmm.

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Richard Prince and the art of ‘rephotographing’
Richard Prince is a New York-based artist famous for appropriation. His work relies heavily on the work of others. Not all of his pieces or projects are appropriated, but his most famous pieces owe their existence to the technique.

Take, for instance, Prince’s “rephotographing” of Marlboro cigarette advertisements, specifically those featuring the Marlboro Man (originally shot by Sam Abell). The series, entitled – and some might say, appropriately – Cowboys, began in the 1980s. A more recent piece from the series (2000) sold for more than $3m (£1.9m) at a 2014 Sotheby’s auction.

There’s a rather brilliant PDN interview, in 2008, with Abell, who speaks about Prince’s appropriation of his photographs. At the beginning of the interview, Abell states: “I’m not angry, of course”. He then speaks for three minutes, getting angrier and angrier.

I’m not particularly amused … it’s obviously plagiarism, and I was taught by my parents the sin of that … it seems to be breaking the golden rule … he has to live with that.”

Abell’s Marlboro photographs are not the only pictures to be repurposed by Prince. In 2014, Prince settled a three-year-long copyright case with the photographer Patrick Cariou after the former used Cariou’s Yes, Rasta, a book on the rastafarian community, as part of his Canal Zone series. He’s also been known to hand out copies of A Catcher in the Rye with his own name on the cover.

Now, Prince is back in the spotlight. His current exhibition – New Portraits – opened in June at the Gagosian gallery in London, having debuted in New York in 2014.

The portraits, however, are not new to everyone – and certainly not new to their subjects.

This is because Prince’s New Portraits series comprises entirely of the Instagram photos of others. The only element of alteration comes in the form of bizarre, esoteric, lewd, emoji-annotated comments made beneath the pictures by Prince.

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Prince’s pieces sold for up to $100,000 (£63,700) at New York’s Frieze art fair, according to CNN. This might not sound a lot, given the prices fetched for oher artists’ works at the Sotheby’s and Christie’s auctions in London this month – including $32.1m (£20.9m) for a Warhol painting of a $1 bill – but it is what mothers around the world would call “better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick”.

As collaborations go, if Jay-Z and Beyonce duetting represents a bringing together of the best of hip-hop and R&B, and Scorsese, Nicholson and DiCaprio a filmmaking supergroup, then Richard Prince and the internet are an appropriation dream team.

So it is that one of the oldest questions (“but is it art?”) collides with one of the most pressing, current global debates: that of online privacy and ownership in the digital age.

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Sherrie Levine: After Walker Evans

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Sherrie Levine (American, born 1947)
After Walker Evans: 4, 1981
Gelatin silver print, 12.8 x 9.8 cm (5 1/16 x 3 7/8 in.)

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, a group of artists including Cindy Sherman, Richard Prince, and Sherrie Levine—at the time dubbed the “Pictures” generation—began using photography to examine the strategies and codes of representation. In reshooting Marlboro advertisements, B-movie stills, and even classics of Modernist photography, these artists adopted dual roles as director and spectator. In their manipulated appropriations, these artists were not only exposing and dissembling mass-media fictions, but enacting more complicated scenarios of desire, identification, and loss.

In 1981, Levine photographed reproductions of Depression-era photographs by Walker Evans, such as this famous portrait of Allie Mae Burroughs, the wife of an Alabama sharecropper. The series, entitled After Walker Evans, became a landmark of postmodernism, both praised and attacked as a feminist hijacking of patriarchal authority, a critique of the commodification of art, and an elegy on the death of modernism. Far from a high-concept cheap shot, Levine’s works from this series tell the story of our perpetually dashed hopes to create meaning, the inability to recapture the past, and our own lost illusions.

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Sherrie Levine (American, born 1947)
After Walker Evans: 1, 1981
Gelatin silver print, 8.6 x 12.9 cm. (3 3/8 x 5 1/16 in.)

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Sherrie Levine (American, born 1947)
After Walker Evans: 10, 1981
Gelatin silver print, 9.6 x 12.7 cm. (3 3/4 x 5 in.)

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Sherrie Levine (American, born 1947)
After Walker Evans: 11, 1981
Gelatin silver print, 12.9 x 10.2 cm. (5 1/16 x 4 in.)

http://www.metmuseum.org

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In 1936 Walker Evans photographed the Burroughs, a family of sharecroppers in Depression era Alabama. In 1979 in Sherrie Levine rephotographed Walker Evans’ photographs from the exhibition catalog “First and Last.” In 2001 Michael Mandiberg scanned these same photographs, and created AfterWalkerEvans.com and AfterSherrieLevine.com to facilitate their dissemination as a comment on how we come to know information in this burgeoning digital age.

Here on AfterSherrieLevine.com you will find a browsable selection of these images. Links to the high-resolution exhibition-quality images to download and print out. Along with a certificate of authenticity for each image, which you print out and sign yourself, as well as directions on how to frame the image so that it will fulfill the requirements of the certificate.

By building the image’s URL into the title – the image to the left is “Untitled (AfterSherrieLevine.com/2.jpg)” – the images are locatable and downloadable by anyone who sees or reads about the image. By distributing the images online with certificates of authenticity, the images are accessible by anyone. Unlike the work of the late Felix Gonzalez-Torres ‹ known for his spills of candy and stacks of paper from which the viewer can take a piece of, though the sculpture stays complete because the owner possesses the certificate of authenticity, the right to reproduce ‹ the certificates here are used to insure that each satellite image be considered with equal authenticity, not the opposite. This is an explicit strategy to create a physical object with cultural value, but little or no economic value.

www.aftersherrielevine.com

Barbara Kruger

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Barbara Kruger
Untitled (Your body is a battleground), 1989
photographic silkscreen on vinyl
112 x 112 in. (284.48 x 284.48 cm), The Broad

Barbara Kruger addresses media and politics in their native tongue: tabloid, sensational, authoritative, and direct. Kruger’s words and images merge the commercial and art worlds; their critical resonance eviscerates cultural hierarchies — everyone and everything is for sale. The year 1989 was marked by numerous demonstrations protesting a new wave of antiabortion laws chipping away at the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. Untitled (Your body is a battleground) was produced by Kruger for the Women’s March on Washington in support of reproductive freedom. The woman’s face, disembodied, split in positive and negative exposures, and obscured by text, marks a stark divide. This image is simultaneously art and protest. Though its origin is tied to a specific moment, the power of the work lies in the timelessness of its declaration.

About Barbara Kruger
The large, bold artworks of Barbara Kruger assimilate words and images from the deluge of contemporary mass media. Employing media effects and strategies, Kruger creates her own sexual, social, and political messages, challenging the stereotypical ways mass media influences society’s notions about gender roles, social relationships, and political issues.

Untitled (Your body is a battleground), 1989, exemplifies Kruger’s interest in addressing and interpreting heated political issues of the moment. Using a silkscreened frontal photograph of a model’s face, the artist gives the image additional meaning by dividing the large canvas it occupies into sections; from left to right, the bisected image reverses from positive to negative, and from top to bottom, the face is divided by the emblazoned slogan “Your body is a battleground.” Kruger critiques the objectified standard of symmetry that is applied to feminine beauty and perpetuated by media and advertising. The composition originally included more text and was designed as a poster for the massive pro-choice rally that took place on April 9, 1989, in Washington, D.C.

Untitled (If you’re so successful, why do you feel like a fake?), 1987, is a direct interrogation of the motivations of contemporary society—career building, money, and the appearance of success and good living. Kruger’s assertive display demands an answer from viewers. Unlike in advertising, which may ask a question to compel a purchase, Kruger’s work uses the same techniques to compel ethical change and reflection.

http://www.thebroad.org

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US vs John Lennon

Editorial Review – Amazon.com

In retrospect, it seems absurd that the United States government felt so threatened by the presence of John Lennon that they tried to have him deported. But that’s what happened, as chronicled in directors David Leaf and John Scheinfeld’s The U.S. vs. John Lennon. The film starts slowly, with a familiar look at the former Beatle’s troubled childhood, his outspokenness as one of the Fabs (“We’re more popular now than Jesus Christ,” etc.), and his eventual hookup with Yoko Ono, paralleled by the growth of political protest in ’60s America, particularly against the Vietnam War. John and Yoko went on to stage their own peaceful demonstrations, like the Canadian “bed-ins,” but these were largely harmless media stunts. It was when the Lennons moved to New York in the early ’70s and took a more active role in the anti-war movement, making friends with radicals like Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and Black Panther Party founder Bobby Seale, that the government got interested–and paranoid–and men like President Richard Nixon, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, and right-wing Sen. Strom Thurmond began actively looking for ways to silence him (it was Thurmond who came up with the deportation idea). That’s also when the film picks up. An array of talking heads weighs in, ranging from Ono and others sympathetic to Lennon’s plight (Walter Cronkite, Sen. George McGovern, even Geraldo Rivera) to those on the other side, including Watergate conspirator G. Gordon Liddy. Though The U.S. vs. John Lennon is hardly impartial, it’s safe to say that although Lennon was more an idealist than an activist, he was an influential celebrity whom Nixon viewed as a potential nuisance in an election year. And even once Nixon had won the ’72 presidential race, the Immigration and Naturalization Service refused to drop its case. Why? “Anybody who sings about love, and harmony, and life, is dangerous to somebody who sings about death,” says author Gore Vidal. “Lennon… was a born enemy of the U.S. He was everything they hated.” For music fans, Lennon’s solo recordings provide the soundtrack. The DVD also contains considerable additional documentary footage. –Sam Graham

Genpei Akasegawa’s 1000 Yen Note Incident

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One of the most famous chapters of post-war Japanese art is Genpei Akasegawa’s 1000-yen Note Incident.

In 1963, the young han-geijutsu (‘Anti-Art’) artist had printed several hundred single-sided monochrome 1000-yen note semblances, mailing them in the post office’s cash envelopes as invitations to his exhibition of collage works in Tokyo. In the following months he made several thousand reproductions of the image, burning some of them in a performance and using others to wrap objects, like the bag pictured below. Nobody took much notice outside his own circle of artist friends.

The following year, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police launched a criminal investigation on Akasegawa, referring to an old, vaguely termed law prohibiting manufacture of objects with an exterior that “may be confused with currency.” This led to a highly publicised and drawn-out trial at Tokyo District Court which raised more provocative questions and reached more people than Akasegawa’s art works could ever have managed to do without the state intervention.

The case (which has been recounted in recent years by Reiko Tomii and William Marotti) necessitated a close consideration of the boundaries of legality and of art. Backed by a group of like-minded artists and critics, Akasegawa stressed the blatant unusability of his notes, arguing that they weren’t counterfeit because they weren’t pretending to be real or true – they only referred to real and true money (albeit aiming thereby to disrupt its imagined reality and truth). The uselessness of the notes gave them their status as art objects, but the court’s response was that what he did may well have been ‘art’, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t criminal. After two appeals, the supreme court upheld the lower court’s indictment in 1970, activating the artist’s sentence of three months incarceration and one year probation.

An ironic side effect of the incident was that it cemented the otherwise barely noticed work in the public consciousness, and in art history. The event is remembered as a forensic interrogation of the nature of representation, replication, imitation and simulation – which, it turns out, are all quite different things. Akasegawa named his notes ‘models’ – they weren’t intended as currency but as images of currency, money abstracted from monetary value.

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The aforementioned Ming Dynasty bank notes were printed with warnings that forgery was punishable by death. This serves today as a reminder that due to the huge gulf between the low material value of a piece of paper and the high promised value of the state-issued symbol, the risk of counterfeit has been a concomitant part of every paper currency. One of Akasegawa’s responses to the trial was to create the Greater Japan Zero-yen Note (1967) (above), which was ‘money’ that made explicitly clear the fact that it had no monetary value. People were invited to exchange three hundred real yen with him for an ‘original’ zero-yen note, his ambitious idea being that once he swapped it all, there would be no ‘real’ money issued by the state left in circulation.

A member of the avant-garde art collectives Neo Dada (initially Neo Dadaism Organisers) and Hi Red Centre, Akasegawa was associated with the radical han-geijutsu or ‘Anti-Art’ movement of the 1950s and 60s. In later years he would develop a theory of cho-geijutsu or ‘Hyper-Art’, which was less overtly political but would continue to seek intersections of the spaces of art and daily life, and interrogate notions of individual authorship and originality.

He also went on to be a prolific author under the pen name Katsuhiko Otsuji, and wrote the screenplay for the 1989 film Rikyū (by Hiroshi Teshigahara of Woman in the Dunes fame), which chronicles the life of the sixteenth century master of the Japanese tea ceremony. At one point in the film, Sen no Rikyū looks upon a statue made in his image and says, “I now see that I am little more than an effigy myself.” Here, the copy doe not reinforce the originality of the original – in Baudrillard’s terms, the copy suffices to “render both artificial.” This harks back to the institutionalised fear that abounds around semblances of money; mechanical reproductions of mechanical reproductions, they threaten to destabilise the consensual authority of money, and the precarious apparatus of faith required for homogenised symbolic value to function.

http://keithwhittle.org

John Baldessari

John Baldessari exhibit "Pure Beauty" press preview. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California, USA. June 23, 2010. Photo: ©2010 Isaac Hernandez/IsaacHernandez.com

John Baldessari exhibit “Pure Beauty” press preview. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California, USA. June 23, 2010. Photo: ©2010 Isaac Hernandez/IsaacHernandez.com

Artist John Baldessari, 82, poses for a portrait at Marian Goodman Gallery where he is exhibiting "Installation Works, 1987-1989" in New York City on June 26th, 2013. Baldessari will also have his first show in Moscow at The Garage CCC in September. CREDIT: Bryan Derballa for Financial Times

Artist John Baldessari, 82, poses for a portrait at Marian Goodman Gallery where he is exhibiting “Installation Works, 1987-1989” in New York City on June 26th, 2013. Baldessari will also have his first show in Moscow at The Garage CCC in September. CREDIT: Bryan Derballa for Financial Times