For the first time, appropriation artist Richard Prince’s entire “Fashion” series is exhibited in one place—Nahmad Contemporary in New York
By Alexa Lawrence
In the digital age, it's common to witness some degree of copyright infringement while surfing the Web, from images placed on websites to music added to YouTube videos. The line between "stealing" and "fair use" is increasingly fuzzy. But the debate isn't limited to, and in fact predates, the Internet. From his early days riffling through stock images in the tear-sheet department at Time Life to the recent clamor over his Instagram screen-shot paintings at Gagosian, Richard Prince, the godfather of appropriation art, has remained on art- and legal-world radars for decades as both a progressive figure and a worrying precedent. A new show at Nahmad Contemporary turns a historicizing lens on one of the artist’s earliest series, “Fashion” (1982–84), on view in its entirety for the first time.
The nine images in “Fashion” are rephotographed magazine ads that take beauty as their subject—specifically the beauty created and sold by the fashion industry. Yet what originated as paeans to glamour come to mean something else entirely under Prince’s hand. The women in the series are statuesque in their poses but alien in their presentation. Cleansed of all language and contextual detail from their advertisements, the images are stripped down. Subtly cropped and enormously enlarged, they appear precariously close, atomized into grainy grisaille, and almost abstract in their simplicity.
Still, one can’t help but thirst for a sip of one woman’s soda, squint enviously at another’s sunglasses, and admire the shadow cast by another’s voluptuous lower lip. Even without overt marketing tricks, viewers still submit to these Gods of Fashion. Seen through Prince’s lens, what were once photographs designed to sell goods now expose a troubling fact of this consumerist day and age: our own complicity.
Through April 18 at Nahmad Contemporary, 980 Madison Avenue, Third Floor, New York; nahmadcontemporary.com