Richard Prince summarizes in himself the most recent and elaborate stage of the use of the readymade, which basically represents the striking manifestation of the transition that art has matured from being practical skill to pure idea, developing beauty like conceptual pregnancy without detaching itself from traditional aesthetics and maintaining the fixed point of the classical conception of interpretation and copying.
By cutting or photographing only part of a larger image, the artist has made the photographs reveal themselves to the viewer in a completely different way from the one with which they were conceived, and thus takes control of an image created with another deliberate intent, by the only process of re-photographing it.
Indeed, the constant in his first experiments with rephotography tecnique is the will of show to the general public the quality, the potential, the beauty of the images advertising, which he finds so attractive simply as pictures, totally extrapolated from their communication and advertising purpose. Prince sees the idea in the decontextualization of these photographs from their environment as revolutionary, the physical expression of his thought, the revolution in the way of making art that he had always known and perceived.
New Portraits is the latest series of artworks completed in 2014 and first exhibited at the Gagosian Gallery in London and the following year at the Blum & Poe gallery in Tokyo. It consists of a series of self-portraits that the author selected from the Instagram social network: the individual shots were photographed in their original layout and printed on canvases of 170 cm in height. The only structural modification that Prince brings to the images is to remove the original comments in favor of others created ad hoc and signed by himself, through his personal account. The work is therefore focused on collecting, selecting, rephotographing and printing in large format a kind of self-portrait produced for a destination where its use is very superficial: the bundling of images on Instagram is the next step compared to the series created by the columns in the magazines for bikers, that is, the interminable accumulation of visual stimuli in a restricted and excited space.
This dizzying accumulation, combined with the simplicity of assimilation of the contents, means that the time of looking at an image is reduced to almost zero and solely aimed at the acquisition of a follow-up, which defines a synecdoche of social approval for the single person. Therefore, a self-congratulation mechanism very similar to the one analyzed by Prince with his Girlfriends is easily established, where the images serve to demonstrate what one wants to be and how one wants to be considered, with the only difference that in this case the subject of the image coincides with the author and his attempt at self-affirmation.
This widespread tendency to self-retreat becomes for Prince the new panorama of his artistic analysis. The laboratory is reduced to his smartphone and the research is paradoxically very vast, strong of the influx of images it can dispose of. The choice of the photographs becomes the most demanding phase of the work, where the artist analyzes the behavior of the single user and selects a single shot, which comments on his behalf.
The parification of treatment between images of different backgrounds highlights Prince’s non-distinction with respect to what is popular and what is not known, once again pointing out how art is able to analyze every human being regardless of any social conditioning: the most prominent works are those that feature characters such as the model Pamela Anderson, the model Kate Moss or the American singer Sky Ferreira. Prince comments each photograph with interventions of highly colloquial language, which presuppose a direct contact with the subject portrayed; through this expedient Prince confers veracity to statements that seek only to highlight the theatrical aspects of the photographs, ironically underlining those elements that, despite the care in the construction of the image, are indicators of a completely fictitious and constructed spontaneity, as much as the inference of the artist.
Prince focuses uncomfortably on the social attitude that superficially justifies the production of this type of photographs, thus putting in crisis those assumptions that support the use of their person as an object-goods and the social resonance that derives from it as an indispensable judgment. . Moreover, through the inferences, the artist reveals the characteristics that point out the condition of thought that underlies the creative process of the self-portrait “selfie”, thus giving rise to a broader reflection on the concept of the value of the individual.