The new Richard Prince retrospective, curated by the Guggenheim and opened at the Walker Art Center a couple weeks ago, is subtitled “Spiritual America.” Which, given that we’re dealing with one of the most ironic artists since the Pop Art era, is itself ironic. Or is it?
Like Warhol, Prince often recreates things—comics, photography, advertisements—but with a twist. In the ‘70s, depending on the story you hear, Prince survived as a clipper, clipping articles from magazines for Time-Life writers or clipping ads to send to advertisers to prove they ran as promised; in any case he became obsessed with the advertisements. He’s both fascinated and repulsed by pop culture—which isn’t a terribly original reaction these days (who doesn’t have a long list of guilty pleasures regarding TV, music, etc.?). Yet his recreations, more skillfully than most satirical artists, find less obvious ways in which our world is hypocritical, as only someone staring at ads all day might come up with—healthy-looking cowboys advertising unhealthy cigarettes, for instance. His art is filled with motorcycles, naughty nurses, muscle cars, pulp.
It’s most interesting, perhaps, from an art history perspective: the ‘70s and ‘80s are when the cute Campbell’s soup cans of Warhol gave way to in-your-face provocation. And Prince can be fairly provocative, as much as glam nudity or this kind of gee-there’s-a-wasted-looking-model-holding-a-CD-over-her-groin shocks anyone anymore at all, and somewhat unsettling–you wonder how much of contemporary society one could poke holes in. But nowadays, it may just be darkly funny. Irony is all about turning things on their head, and once in the spirit of it, you may be head over heels. This is the world we’ve made for ourselves; we might as well appreciate it for what it is. That said, what does it say about us if we’re not shocked.
Milos Forman, whose films are being shown at the Walker all month, takes a more formal approach to social documentation: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Hair, The People vs. Larry Flynt and Amadeus are among his best-known films. Forman speaks at the Walker on April 12, where the Czech director may illuminate how he’s managed to make such consistently free-spirited yet moving films—even as his parents perished at Auschwitz and the Soviet invasion drove him to America.