Richard Prince – Protest Paintings at Skarstedt Gallery
Skarstedt Gallery is currently showing Richard Prince’s Protest Paintings, which attack all strands of Americana, through appropriation. Mass media channelled religion, politics and consumerism throughout Prince’s formative years as an artist in an American Dream-crazed society. This exhibition flaunts what is one of his most significant series. Now collated together in two rooms of the gallery, Protest Paintings feels not only reminiscent of the politically motivated era but practically ready to resurrect its original cause.
This particular body of the painter’s work came as a reaction to the 1970 Kent State shootings following a student protest. Prince’s punishment for being an inadvertent “ringleader” of the ensuing rioting (when he lowered the university campus flag to half-mast) led him to question and begin to mock the symbolism of the American flag, the state’s morality and its supposedly democratic outlook. Additionally inspired by Jasper Johns’ work, Prince splashes American stripes across most of the pieces in an unforgiving and vigorous Pollock-esque manner.
All the paintings remain untitled as if to unify the notions of mass and anonymity in demonstrations. They represent in their canvas forms both the protest placard and the sacrificial crucifix, as if mocking the religion of his country. Noted as “Americana: the sacredness of US culture, patriotism, aspirations of race, creed, social status,” this ridicule runs throughout the exhibition. As no one escapes it, Prince is not an outsider; he even reflects it back to his appropriation of his own jokes.
Here, text is significant in its directness and volume in protests. Catchy and chanted by the masses, the artist adopts one-liners typical of American humour, which are both handwritten and printed onto the canvas. Bodily substances level as metaphors for the raw, organic emotions he feels for his contemporaries like Andy Warhol: “Cream, cum, filth, flesh, juice” scales across numerous insults to the pop art pioneer in one work.
Some pieces are minimal, milky in colour and texture, while others shriek through bold layers of stencilled shapes and graffiti. The highlight piece is larger than the rest, yet the barest, with only nail rust and unrefined canvas coating its cold surface. It mourns people and lost beliefs, and commemorates the demise of Americana, while gauging the noise of the exhibition’s work with its silence. Protest Paintings is a strong, outspoken show.
Photos: Emre Zengin
Richard Prince – Protest Paintings (1989 – 1994) is at Skarstedt Gallery from 15th October until 20th December 2013, for further information visit here.