Monday, November 5, 2007

Richard Prince - "Spiritual America"

"Sonic Nurse" by Richard Prince. Image from Wiki.

Perhaps, this is the last post that I'll milk from my few days in New York - very full days, as I look back. But that's always the case on my visits there, as I try to cram in as many activities as possible and end up exhausted.

On Monday morning, I went to the Guggenheim Museum to see an intriguing art exhibit, Richard Prince's Spiritual America. The paintings and sculptures by Prince, a contemporary artist, line the walls and spaces in the alcoves all the way up the circular ramp, from bottom to top - or top to bottom, if you go up the elevator and walk down. I walked smiling or laughing out loud throughout most of the exhibit, and I was laughing with the artist and not at him.

The exhibit includes sculptures, paintings, and rephotography, which I'll talk about later. On the floor at the ground level is the rear half of the body of a car with a sculptured front. That was my first smile, but by no means the last.

Four different versions of photographs of a VO ad were first on the wall as I began my walk up the spiral. Remember Seagram's VO? In the rephotography pieces, Prince photographs ads from magazines, removes the brand lettering, and crops or smudges to get his final work. In the case of the VO works, he left the brand name in. My first reaction to the VO pictures was, "Is this art?" As I continued on, I saw more photographs of ads, high-end furniture ads, with all the lettering and brand names removed.

Then, I came to the masterpieces of rephotography - the "Cowboys" - the Marlboro men. Some of the pictures were quite large, a few on a smaller scale, but seeing the Marlboro men all together is absolutely amazing. I remember the dissonance I felt about the Marlboro men ads when I'd see them in magazines. Here were all these manly men doing rugged work in the pure, clean air, with gorgeous Western scenery in the background, and they're selling cigarettes. All of that came flooding back into my memory, and I came to the conclusion that Prince is an artist with a keen sense of humor. I could not help smiling, as I walked through.

On one side panel was a small picture of two cowboys stooping down. They're nearly silhouettes, but not quite. One cowboy seems to be giving the other a soulful look. I thought to myself, "Brokeback Mountain!" Then, as I backtracked, the whole cowboy exhibit looked gay. When I got back to the hotel that night, I was telling Grandpère about it, and he said, "I always thought the Marlboro men were gay." He was way ahead of me.

The exhibit included paintings of panels of all one color, perhaps with a darker or lighter stripe of the same color. Across the panels were jokes with words running together and breaks in odd places, making them hard to decipher. After you take the time to read something like this, I'ma lwayski ddingabo utmywife. Ea chtimeIin trod ucehertoso meone, thesay, "Yo u'rekiddi ng", the joke is on you for putting such effort in reading a silly joke. My favorite among the jokes is this one, which I'll do without the odd letter spacing. Two psychiatrists. One says to the other, "I had lunch with my mother the other day and I made a Freudian slip. I meant to say, "Please pass the butter," and it came out, "You f**king bitch. You ruined my life".

At that one I laughed out loud. As I walked further along, one of the young museum attendants asked me if I was enjoying the exhibit. Why me? Perhaps he heard me laugh. I told him that I loved it. He said, "I feel the same way".

Moving right along to the "Girlfriend" pictures. The girlfriends are photographs of biker's girlfriends, posing provocatively on the bikes, some topless. The women do not have fashion model bodies. Theirs are not the ideals of beauty that we see on TV, in the movies, or in the fashion magazines. They are real bodies of real women that won't make the rest of us feel bad about ourselves the moment we look at them.

Then there's the "Nurses" paintings room, from which comes the example at the head of the post. The names of the "Nurse" paintings are taken from the trashy romance novels about the racy lives of fictional nurses. Below are the titles of some of the paintings, not all of which were included in the exhibit. Imagine the possibilities in the stories!

A Nurse Involved
Aloha Nurse
Danger Nurse at Work
Doctor's Nurse
Dude Ranch Nurse
Graduate Nurse
Heartbreak Nurse
Island Nurse
Lake Resort Nurse
New England Nurse
Nurse Barclay's Dilemma
Park Avenue Nurse
Piney Woods Nurse
Surfing Nurse #2
Surgical Nurse

Sometimes there's a little blood, a mask. They're somewhat threatening and spooky.

I'm leaving out a lot, including his "Hood" sculptures - that's the hood of a car, and others of his works, because this is running long and is taking me forever to write. Why do I take such time with it? Because I liked the exhibit so. In the beginning, I viewed it with mixed feelings, but I came away loving it. I'm no art critic, and I purposely did not read reviews of the exhibit before writing, since I wanted to give my impression.

The very title of the exhibit, "Spiritual America" is filled with irony. I do not know whether it was chosen by the artist or the curator, but it is apt. The American spirit thrives on fakery. The "Girlfriends" pictures serve as a jolt of reality in the midst of the fakes. Much of the exhibit is pure satire on the advertising trade, which is such a huge part of what keeps the American economy running. And now it plays a rather frightening part in our fake electoral process.

Below are links to two reviews of the exhibit.

From Patricia Zohn at The Huffington Post.

From the East Hampton Star.

Here's a link to further information on Prince's art;

From Art & Culture