Friday, June 17, 2011

Richard Prince: Genius or Thief?


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?

30 comments:

D4 said...

In my opinion he's neither. I was wondering about him since that last article, and seeing some works side by side really answered any original questions. Now, while I agree that if he hadn't been famous he would be getting away with it, don't see that as a problem. He's using someone else's work and making a large profit off of it, and in my opinion that's just plain rude. I mean if you ask and offer a percent of profit, or an estimate, or anything, then yes, he's doing good. Otherwise what?

If an artist steals paint and makes a masterpiece, is he not wrong?

Astronomy Pirate said...

He sounds fishy to me, I wouldn't let him see any of my work. I believe there can be a appropriation when appropriate, but this was clearly out of line and only for monetary gain.

Jammer said...

Glad the court ruled against that guy.

Anonymous said...

Plain thief.

Quetopia said...

I love when my fingers do the walking.

Necroticism said...

Seems like an unoriginal guy, and a thief.

Fang said...

Well, is it sort of stealing others work for your own deeds. He would've been smarter to take his on awesome pictures, and edit those.

The Angry Lurker said...

Thieving bastard, I would go postal.

Jack of Diamonds said...

I liked this, made me think.

Intraman said...

i think prince's work in great conceptually speaking but it is true that the original author of the "appropriated" photographs are rarely credited...

Jaccstev said...

Impressive work but unfortunately it stole someone else's.

Generally Disgruntled said...

Yeah, I wouldn't be too psyched.

VersionDouble said...

what the hell, thats not right. great buisness model, but its too close to the line to count as taking inspiration or sampling, for me.

-E- said...

i think artists should be funded by the state and not concerned with profit.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Genius. Its not his fault the people purchasing his art are stupid. Though he should have to pay the original artist some royalties like a record that uses samples.

thenitefalls said...

I would sue the hell out of this guy if he took my work and made it his own! This prince guy needs an imagination of his own lol

Rudolf said...

pice piks

Jacob said...

Artists should be able to modify the work of otheres as long as they give a share to the original creator.
*just my humble opinion

HiFi said...

Artists copy other artists all the time, but the crossing point is where one does it for commercial purposes. In certain circumstances, it's very flattering to have your artwork copied, as it is quite common for someone's art to be under-appreciated. But when somebody makes money off of it, well them's fightin' words (with art) :P

Simon black said...

Good that he didn't got away with it in court.

ed said...

genius, let me do the same to him

Jblogger said...

hmmm

Guy Movie Blogger said...

Pure plagiarism to me. I'm glad to see that the court ruled in favor of the original artist.

LasseEA said...

You cant argue with a reaaaal cowboy ;-)

movie68 said...

I'd be pissed if someone was making that much money off of my work just by tweaking it a bit. Glad he lost in court.

Jason said...

Nice! Keep up the good work!

T. Roger Thomas said...

I'm glad he lost in court.

Thanks for documenting this case, which is interesting to think about.

pixel said...

i vote genius, i love seeing the marlboro images mounted on big light boxes

las3R said...

Yeah it's plagiarism, even worse if it's for money.

Anonymous said...

He is a Thief, a Con Man and Even Stupid.

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