Richard Prince (born 1949) is one of the most acclaimed artists of his generation and arguably the most provocative. He works in a wide range of media that include painting, photography, and sculpture. The cornerstone of Prince's work–like that of peers such as Sherrie Levine and Barbara Kruger–is appropriation: the artistic strategy that involves the borrowing, re-use, adaptation, or reproduction of existing artistic images and forms as the basis for fresh creation and commentary and as a means to ask philosophical questions about the nature of originality and authorship.
His earliest thematic works, re-photographs of cigarette advertisements featuring the mythic American figure of the cowboy, prefigure such thematic successes as his Nurses paintings series, in which he recreated trashy book jacket imagery. From these works to his latest project involving the manipulation of Instagram selfies, Prince has developed a body of work that serves not only as a penetrating examination of contemporary art history, but also as a trenchant critique of current social and cultural mores. As Peter Schjeldahl, art critic for The New Yorker, wrote in his review of the artist's 2007 retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum: "Prince's works make him an artist as anthropologist, illuminating folkways by recycling advertising photographs, cartoons and one liner jokes, soft-core pornography, motorcycle-cult ephemera, pulp-novel covers, Dukes of Hazzard-era car parts, celebrity memorabilia, and other demotic flotsam."
In 1987, Prince embarked on his seminal Monochromatic Jokes paintings–canvases that consist of corny and shopworn gags printed on vivid, uniformly colored backgrounds. Bedtime Story (1988) is an impressive example from the series. The painting resonates with association and references. The joke itself is a commentary on numerous stereotypical notions–about age, gender, holiday domesticity, and the nuclear family–but more significant is the way Prince has contextualized it. There is a coolness and detachment that removes the words from the realm of humor; they are writ small in a featureless typeface, overwhelmed by the surrounding color. Bedtime Story is a chimera: at once a Hard-Edge abstraction and a piece of Conceptualist art in which the aesthetic image has been replaced by the pure idea. There is no trace of the artist's hand in the painting–the words are both familiar and remote, like a Warhol Campbell's soup can. At once art and artifact, Bedtime Story represents the apex of appropriation art.
Prince, Richard. Spiritual America. New York: Aperture, 1989. Print. Spector, Nancy, and Richard Prince. Richard Prince. New York: Guggenheim Museum, 2007. Print. Fogle, Douglas. "Richard Prince." Bits & Pieces Put Together to Present a Semblance of a Whole: Walker Art Center Collections. Ed. Joan Rothfuss and Elizabeth Carpenter. Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, 2005. Print. Schjeldahl, Peter. "The Joker: Richard Prince at the Guggenheim." The New Yorker. The New Yorker, 15 Oct. 2007. Web. 09 Jan. 2016.