Call it what you will—recycling, citing, stealing—Richard Prince is the chieftain of low American culture, manipulating all range of found material to question notions of authenticity and high culture, from the Marlboro man to cowboys to Instagram posts. His favored subjects across series are usually taboo, or at least uncomfortable: stereotypes, sexism, infidelity, and shame. On view at Nahmad Contemporary, “Cartoon Jokes,” featuring work from between 1988 and 1991, is the first show dedicated to the artist’s large-scale silkscreens appropriating New Yorker cartoons with altered captions.
Using a jolting sans serif font that was clearly replaced, and often poorly, these new captions are sardonic, off-kilter, and tap in to a peculiarly American sense of alienation. The bulk of the cartoons in this exhibition feature scenes of infidelity, in which a wife or husband bursts into a scene with a cavorting pair. But what was clearly once a quip-y caption becomes something else entirely: “WHAT A KID I WAS,” the caption to a cartoon of an angry businessman coming home to his wife on someone else’s lap reads, “I remember practicing the violin in front of a roaring fire. My old man walked in. He was furious. We didn’t have a fireplace.”
Also on view are five newer works from Prince’s “Blue Ripples” series (2017-2019). These paintings also use cartoons as their source material—only these were pulled from the pages of Playboy.