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RICHARD PRINCE (b. 1949)

 
RICHARD PRINCE - Untitled (Cowboy) - dye coupler print - 79 x 59 in. RICHARD PRINCE - Untitled (Cowboy) - dye coupler print - 79 x 59 in. RICHARD PRINCE - Untitled (Cowboy) - dye coupler print - 79 x 59 in. RICHARD PRINCE - Untitled (Cowboy) - dye coupler print - 79 x 59 in. RICHARD PRINCE - Untitled (Cowboy) - dye coupler print - 79 x 59 in. RICHARD PRINCE - Untitled (Cowboy) - dye coupler print - 79 x 59 in. RICHARD PRINCE - Untitled (Cowboy) - dye coupler print - 79 x 59 in. RICHARD PRINCE - Untitled (Cowboy) - dye coupler print - 79 x 59 in. RICHARD PRINCE - Untitled (Cowboy) - dye coupler print - 79 x 59 in. RICHARD PRINCE - Untitled (Cowboy) - dye coupler print - 79 x 59 in.
Untitled (Cowboy)201679 x 59 in.(200.66 x 149.86 cm) dye coupler print
Provenance
Private Collection, acquired directly from the artist
Literature
Prince, R., Prince, R., Rubin, R. M., & Los Angeles County Museum of Art, (2020), Richard Prince: Cowboy. ill. 441, 443, 459
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“My studio is the only place I feel good in. There, I’m fearless; outside, I’m a mess.” – Richard Prince

History

The cowboy, epitome of the American rugged individualist, has been a career-long source of inspiration for Richard Prince. His famous Untitled (Cowboy) series hails back to the mid-1970s when Prince was employed in the Time-Life tear sheet department, and it was his job to strip the text from magazines. After he collated hard copy editorial material for the writers, he was left with glossy adverts that he collected. A keen sorter of visual messages, Prince found the Marlboro ads especially compelling. “The more I saw commonalities, the more I could believe in it.” Of course, he knew the ad image was artifice. The Philip Morris production team made highly wrought objects.

Back in 1949, Life magazine chose Texas cowboy Clarence Hailey Long for the cover of an edition that publicized Leonard McCombe’s photo essay on ranching in the American West. The weather-worn face of Long, staring past readers with a cigarette fixed between his lips, caused a sensation. The cowboy became an icon of masculinity. When adman Leo Burnett dreamed up the Marlboro Man ad campaign for Philip Morris in 1954, he harnessed this sentiment. For four decades, the notional cowboy convinced American men that they too could be as manly as he… if only they smoked his brand cigarette. Ads stirred belief and nostalgia. Intentionally, the campaign ran during war-torn decades steeped in pessimism about the future. The cowboy was the heroic spirit of a vanishing era. Prince homed in on this reflexive identity construction: “The things about those ads was that it wasn’t a cowboy you were seeing. It was a model. But the model might be a real cowboy, acting like a cowboy. It was making itself up.”1

Prince began photographing adverts at a tight crop to avoid text, enlarging the images into grainy close-ups. In the 1980s, Prince debuted his seminal cowboy series. Gallery walls were plastered with photos taken by others for the Marlboro campaign and taken again by him. Consequently, Prince earned a well-publicized outlaw stature for his shoot-first-ask-questions-later method of rephotographing popular imagery. Prince removed all text references, leaving the viewer with a decontextualized image. The amplified image denuded of context appears tauntingly archetypal. This working method of appropriation and re-presentation of ubiquitous mass media imagery brought him into the fold of the Pictures Generation, alongside artists like Cindy Sherman and Sherrie Levine who explored ways that generic images connote meaning. Prince decoded commercial photography, revealing the relied-upon clichés.

More
  • Untitled (Cowboy) 1989, side by side with the original ad.
  • Prince40286_history2
    LIFE Magazine, 22 August 1949 with cowboy C. H. Long © Photo: Leonard McCombe, Image: Life Magazine/The LIFE Premium Collection/Getty Images.
  • Prince40286_history3
    Another yellow-jacketed cowboy, original Marlboro ad.
  • Prince40286_history4
    A Marlboro cigarettes ad from with the yellow Line Rider jacket.
  • “Untitled (Cowboy)” series from 2016 at LACMA.
  • Another edition of this same print in LACMA’s permanent collection.
“Is passion what we are? Is that what we are in pictures? Is what we are in pictures almost real? Maybe it’s become the most real thing.” – Richard Prince

Top Results at Auction

"Runaway Nurse" (2005), inkjet and acrylic on canvas, 110.2 x 66.1 in. (280 x 168 cm). Sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong: 18 June 2021 for $12,107,229 USD.
“Runaway Nurse” (2005), inkjet and acrylic on canvas, 110.2 x 66.1 in. (280 x 168 cm). Sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong: 18 June 2021 for $12,107,229 USD.
"Runaway Nurse" (2005-2006), inkjet and acrylic on canvas, 110 ¼ x 66 in. Sold at Christie’s New York: 10 May 2016 for $9,685,000.
“Runaway Nurse” (2005-2006), inkjet and acrylic on canvas, 110 ¼ x 66 in. Sold at Christie’s New York: 10 May 2016 for $9,685,000.
"Nurse of Greenmeadow" (2005-2006), inkjet and acrylic on canvas, 110 ¼ x 66 in. Sold at Christie’s New York: 11 May 2014 for $8,565,000.
“Nurse of Greenmeadow” (2005-2006), inkjet and acrylic on canvas, 110 ¼ x 66 in. Sold at Christie’s New York: 11 May 2014 for $8,565,000.
"Overseas. Nurse" (2002), ink jet print and acrylic on canvas, 93 by 56in. Sold at Sotheby’s London: 01 July 2008 for $ 8,452,000.
“Overseas. Nurse” (2002), ink jet print and acrylic on canvas, 93 by 56in. Sold at Sotheby’s London: 01 July 2008 for $ 8,452,000.

Comparable Paintings Sold at Auction

“Untitled, (Cowboy)” (1998), Ektacolor print, 58 3/4 x 39 in. Sold at Christie’s New York: 12 May 2014 for $3,749,000 USD.
“Untitled, (Cowboy)” (1998), Ektacolor print, 58 3/4 x 39 in. Sold at Christie’s New York: 12 May 2014 for $3,749,000 USD.
  • A smaller example of the “Cowboy” series, roughly half the size of our piece
  • Includes only one cowboy figure
  • An edition of 2, like our piece, those this example is an artist’s proof
“Untitled, (Cowboy)” (2000), Ektacolor print, 47 3/4 x 77 in. Sold at Christie’s New York: 10 May 2016 for $3,525,000 USD.
“Untitled, (Cowboy)” (2000), Ektacolor print, 47 3/4 x 77 in. Sold at Christie’s New York: 10 May 2016 for $3,525,000 USD.
  • A darker example from the “Cowboy” series with silhouetted figures
  • Smaller in scale than our piece
  • An edition of 2, like our piece, those this example is an artist’s proof
“Untitled, (Cowboy)” (2001-2002), Ektacolor print, 100 x 66 1/2 in. Sold at Sotheby’s New York: 14 November 2007 for $3,401,000 USD.
“Untitled, (Cowboy)” (2001-2002), Ektacolor print, 100 x 66 1/2 in. Sold at Sotheby’s New York: 14 November 2007 for $3,401,000 USD.
  • Comparable scale
  • Depicts a single silhouetted figure with fewer discernible features than the two in our piece
“Untitled, (Cowboy)” (1997), Ektacolor print, 50 x 76 in. Sold at Christie’s New York: 09 November 2021 for $3,030,000 USD.
“Untitled, (Cowboy)” (1997), Ektacolor print, 50 x 76 in. Sold at Christie’s New York: 09 November 2021 for $3,030,000 USD.
  • Comparable scale, though with a smaller single cowboy figure
  • Also from an edition of 2
  • Strong recent sale of over $3M in November 2021

Paintings in Museum Collections

“Untitled (Cowboy)” (2016), Dye coupler print, 79 1/2 x 60 in., The Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
  • The companion piece to ours in the permanent collection of LACMA
  • Featured in the 2017-2018 LACMA exhibition focused exclusively on Prince’s “Untitled (Cowboy)” series
“Untitled (Cowboy)” (1989), Chromogenic print, 50 x 70 in., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
  • One of the most desirable works from the series
  • Comparable scale, though slightly smaller than ours
“Untitled (Cowboy)” (1987), Ektacolor photographs, 20 x 24 in., The Rubell Museum, Miami.
  • Smaller scale example from Prince’s initial exploration of this theme in the 1980s
  • Also from an edition of 2
“Untitled (Cowboy)” (1991-1992), Chromogenic print. (Ektacolor), 49 1/4 x 70 ½ in., The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
  • Comparable scale, though slightly smaller than ours
  • Features a single cowboy who fills the frame

Exhibition at the Los Angeles Country Museum of Art

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art presented an exhibition of Richard Prince’s Untitled (Cowboy) series in 2017-2018. The show featured two of Prince’s photographic series from the 2010s, including works from 2016 comparable to our piece. Highlighting the importance of this series to Prince’s ongoing examination of ownership and innovation, LACMA explored the artist’s cowboy series of re-photographed advertisements: “Extending his interrogation of this particular American protagonist into the era of Instagram, Prince demonstrates that the stakes around originality, appropriation, and truth in advertising are as high as ever.”

“The problem with art is, it’s not like the game of golf where you put the ball in the hole. There’s no umpire; there’s no judge. There are no rules. It’s one of its problems. But it’s also one of the great things about art. It becomes a question of what lasts.” – Richard Prince

Image Gallery

Additional Resources

Watch an enlightening interview with Richard Prince hosted by the Guggenheim Museum, New York.
Watch an enlightening interview with Richard Prince hosted by the Guggenheim Museum, New York.
Dive deeper into the landmark 2007-2008 Richard Prince Retrospective at the Guggenheim.
Explore the recent exhibition of Richard Prince and other artists from the Pictures Generation at the Bourse de Commerce, Pinault Collection, Paris.

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