Friday, June 17, 2011
Richard Prince: Genius or Thief?
Posted by Jay at 8:35 AM
How would you feel if somebody sees a photograph you took, rephotographs and edits it slightly, and sells it for hundreds of thousands of dollars? What if he then defends his actions by saying that it's art and his work is protected by the fair use principle? That's exactly what artist Richard Prince has been doing for the last few years.
Mr. Prince was actually featured in the previous post for his Untitled Cowboy photograph (above) which sold for $1.248 million in November 2005. The image itself is visually impressive, but it was actually photographed by Sam Abell, and Mr. Prince rephotographed his work, edited it, and enlarged it to make it his own. And therein lies the problem.
In his defense, Mr. Prince insisted that his work falls under appropriation art, which means he takes certain elements of the work of others in order to create his own. While many other artists have done this successfully in the past and present, Mr. Prince stretched the definition too thinly as many of his appropriations consist of the entire original work with very little personal alterations. Take for example the images below:
In this comparison, photographer Jim Krantz's 1998 image entitled Calf Rescue appears above while Mr. Prince's rephotographed work is below. You can clearly see that the above photo is the source of the artwork (a term used loosely here), but it is still passed off as an original work. Mr. Krantz hasn't yet sued Mr. Prince for this blatant reproduction of his photographs, but he has however gone public in the hope that people will realize that there are actually photographers and artists behind Mr. Prince's appropriations.
This kind of appropriation would have continued if not for a court ruling against Mr. Prince a few months ago. In 2008, photographer Patrick Cariou sued Mr. Prince and his art dealer Larry Gagosian (of the Gagosian Gallery) for using and displaying artworks based his photographs from his book Yes Rasta without his permission.
In March 2011, a US Judge ruled against Mr. Prince's defense of fair use, stating that Mr. Prince works were not a commentary on Mr. Cariou's works, and that he created these works for commercial rather than educational purposes. Mr. Prince also acted in bad faith, having never asked permission for the use of the original photographs, even after Mr. Cariou sent communications to this matter. You can see an example of the original versus the appropriated work below.
During the case, Mr. Prince released a statement that basically said that if it weren't for the fact that he was a famous artist, he would have gotten away with his appropriations. That is such a disappointing declaration coming from a guy whose works command some of the highest prices in the contemporary art world. In your own opinion, is Richard Prince an artistic genius who is justified in his appropriations of other people's original works, or is he just a plain thief?