I apologize to everyone for falling off the grid, there will be more to come on that later, however I just could not resist putting up a little something about Richard Prince’s latest debacle. Thanks to the Times.com & PDN Pulse for the details, but I am very interested to see where this lawsuit goes. To be honest, I am not really much of a fan of Prince’s work. And I do think there are are real issues in appropriating work from other, actively creating artists. In this the digital age, when the internet has made images so much more accessible, appropriation of an individual artists work at this moment, seems very wrong. However, there are artists doing it right. Hank Willis Thomas fresh appropriation of corporate logos and advertisements aimed at African American culture make perfect sense. Because in our current environment, the individual artists rights have been greatly overshadowed by the rights of large corporations. If you have ever had to sign an editorial contract, you know what I referring to. The house has been winning for some time unless you are a superstar, say like, Richard Prince.
So while I am not sure legally Prince is wrong, the spirit of what he did seems terrible wrong. For a mega artist to take the work of a less successful or known artist and make it his own, is really just plain gross. Early appropriation like Sherry Levine’s work, questions authorship, but her work never passes itself of as original, it always directly references the work it borrows from. In the Walker Evans image, you do not mistaken think that she created that image. Similarly, Peneople Umbrico’s mural at last year’s NY Photo Fest, was entitled, “Suns from Flickr.” So while in her choice images and editing she created a incredibility beautiful work, she still acknowledged the appropriation. Her work, like Willis Thomas, is smart, well executed and says something about our culture. While I did not see the Prince show in person, online the work looks pretty bad.
In times of corporate domination, (which may begin to change with our current economic crisis,) and with the debate of fair use of internet images raging, it seems to me that artists should understand that appropriation has real significance at this moment and should be done with care.
The Prince work in question
Patrick Cariou’s original work
Sherry Levine After Walker Evans, 1981
Penelope Umbrico Suns from Flickr
Hank Willis Thomas Priceless #1, 2004