Richard Prince: Spiritual America, at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, presents America as it is. As an artist, Prince does not have to look far to make his art: He simply picks up an advertisement (which in itself screams American) or looks out his window, and seizes the American ideal and American spirit. Perhaps without even trying, Prince has done something incredible and that is constantly attempted: presented an entire culture, quite simply, in photographs, painting and sculpture.
The first photos look too perfect — they are nearly lifeless. No, Prince did not take them. He salvaged them. From the depths of the magazine pages you skip over or only notice as they get in the way of your reading lie photographs that someone was paid to take. In these photographs something is selling you whatever, their whole point is to make you want. Prince seeks out these photographs and frames them, makes you notice them, and makes a point, thus makes art.
One series of three photographs takes three jewelry advertisements and centers in on the necklace, which ever so nicely happens to be positioned on the model’s cleavage. Prince notably leaves out the faces — the photos are just jewels on breasts. Could a better example of American thought be found? Still, not all of the art runs as obvious. His own photographs of upstate New York present a line of garages under the familiar gray light of a winter day, and a basketball hoop in the middle of a grassy field. Prince also finds little pieces of culture in cigarette ads and biker magazines.
The most captivating works are Prince’s most creative. The “joke paintings” take subjects that must come from seedy bars (about psychiatrists and lesbian girlfriends, among other things) and stencils their words, repeatedly, in colors on canvases, some as tall as the room they are in. America is still everywhere: in the jokes themselves, and in the collage backgrounds (only noticeable up close) which are from porn magazines or checks — money and sex. Prince knows his country well.
In his art, Prince may not be taking his own photographs all of the time (which cries for a lawsuit) but is instead piecing together a puzzle to make a point. Who would sue a man for presenting what we have failed to notice? Prince had a vision of America, and has masterfully executed it. The exhibition runs through January 28th.