Richard Prince: “New Portraits”

The multi-disciplined artist bends the rules of portraiture for his new Instagram-based show at NYC's Gagosian Gallery

by Charlotte Anderson


It’s undeniably weird and yet somehow unsurprising to see Richard Prince’s Instagram feed plastered on gallery walls. On view at NYC’s Gagosian Gallery, Prince’s latest exhibit, “New Portraits,” is characteristically straightforward—frustratingly, cleverly straightforward. Each “portrait”—a screengrab from Prince’s Instagram—is printed on canvas. Hyper-granulated photographs line the walls complete with emoji-peppered commentary.

In the same way Prince made stills from the Marlboro man commercials, he’s started pilfering his social networks. None of the paintings are “his” in the same way your Tumblr or Facebook newsfeed are not really “yours.” Rather, “New Portraits” is a collaboration—an unwitting collaboration, but a collaboration nonetheless. It’s borderline performance art in the same way that all social media is performative. By selecting, curating and commenting for months and months, Prince defies the meandering action of the infinite scroll and instead reveals the scattered, vying syntax of web-speak.


But this of course doesn’t mean Prince won’t take his profits. Many critics will surely be furious that these portraits are allegedly selling for upwards of $40,000 each. But the man has made a career out of lucrative, simple and expensive works. That’s his charm, and “New Portraits” is ridiculous and delightful in this way. The pure audacity is where the pleasure lies—and that’s the central propulsion of Prince’s art.

What’s most compelling about Prince’s new show is neither the expense nor the simplicity nor the matter of appropriation. Instead it’s his comments—stalker-ish, awkwardly sexual, often nonsensical comments written under the username richardprince4. And the comments are often baffling. They include awkward, morose sentences: “I wish I could have fun.” Borderline creepy commentary: “T-shirt bathing suit! Nice. Let’s hookup next week. Lunch, smiles. R.” Barely coherent: “Jez to be dare ID quiet I’m sure you nut schmoo fwend [shower head emoji].” And sometimes the comments are completely, perplexingly ordinary: “Digging the Sunday look,” richardprince4 writes on one man’s selfie. These are what drive the viewer toward the surface of the canvas. The usually temporal act, online interaction, is translated and splayed onto a physical object.


Richardprince4’s comments rarely see a response. His comments are interruptions for which there can be no reply, and in this way Prince makes the feed his. By co-opting the comments section he claims the photographs as his own. Maybe the most, or the least, shocking revelation of “New Portraits” is that the famous photographer is like everyone else: an internet troll. Instagram seems to be made for him—or Prince was made for Instagram.

“New Portraits” is on view at NYC’s Gagosian Gallery (located at 976 Madison Avenue) until 25 October 2014.

Image courtesy of Richard Prince and Gagosian Gallery