Peter’s Auction Pick of the Day: Richard Prince

February 17, 2016

To my mind, one of the hallmarks of a great work of art is that it resonates with associations and allusions. By that measure, Richard Prince’s Bedtime Story (1988)—the cover lot in our February 21st auction of modern art and design—is a tour de force.

Lot 189, Richard Prince, Bedtime Story (1988)
Lot 189, Richard Prince, Bedtime Story (1988)
February 21, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

Prince made his name with the artistic technique of appropriation: the borrowing, re-use, or adaptation of existing artistic images and forms as the basis for fresh creation and philosophical commentary. His famous early work of the 1970s involved the use of photographs culled from Marlboro cigarette ads in magazines. In 1987, Prince embarked on a series now known as his Monochromatic Jokes paintings—canvases that consist of vintage gags printed on vivid, uniformly colored backgrounds. Bedtime Story is an impressive example, blossoming with references and connotations.

To begin, the appropriation of a joke is itself a kind of joke: nothing makes comedians bristle more than others stealing their material. More significant is the way Prince contextualizes the joke: his coolness and detachment drain it of humor.

But the painting continues to reverberate. Prince’s use of an everyday device—think of Warhol’s soup cans and Brillo boxes—alludes to Pop art. And as in works by Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, there is no trace of the artist’s hand in Prince’s painting. His deployment of words refers to Conceptualist art, in which the aesthetic image has been replaced by the pure idea. As a small block of text in a featureless typeface, the words are overwhelmed by the surrounding color, suggesting the work of Josef Albers, or the Hard-Edge abstractions of John McLaughlin or even the minimalism of Donald Judd.

In a single canvas, Prince manages to comment on all of the signal artistic movements of the post-war years. It’s no joke: Bedtime Story is a major work of art.

Lot Information:

Lot 189
Richard Prince
Bedtime Story
Acrylic and silkscreen on canvas
Signed and dated “R Prince 1988″ in felt-tip marker on overlap verso; retains Barbara Gladstone Gallery and Regen Projects labels verso
Canvas: 66″ x 54”
Together with copy of invoice from Regen Projects
Provenance: Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York, New York;
Regen Projects, Los Angeles, California;
Private Collection, Los Angeles, California (acquired directly from the above, 2004)
Estimate: $1,000,000 – $2,000,000
February 21, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

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