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Craft/Work

It’s Trad Dad: Richard Prince Unpacks His Record Collection
John Quin , October 28th, 2017 08:50

For his new show at Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin, the notorious appropriation artist displays a fondness for Mike Bloomfield (and black bras)

Eight hundred metres separates Max Hetzler’s paired gallery spaces, where Richard Prince has a new show he calls ‘Super Group’. The journey between the two gives you plenty of time to think how much you hate the concept of rock stars collaborating over contrived projects, those hall of famers ‘jamming’ together, the spent talents ‘getting it together in the country, maaan’.

Perhaps we can borrow a collective noun from nuns and talk of a superfluity of super groups. For the blank generation, that awful term ‘super group’ calls to mind musical self-indulgence characterized by boring behemoths like ELP. This was a time when dads forced kids to endure fifteen-minute drum solos, to have blind faith in onanistic fretwork. As the history books rightly tell you – this is why punk had to happen.

And as you walk between the venues, under the U-Bahn on Bleibtreustrasse, you come across a poster. On the tunnel wall is an advert for the ‘Rock meets Classic’ tour starring Francis Rossi of Status Quo, John Helliwell from Supertramp, Eric Bazilian out of something called – God help us – The Hooters and, as a special treat from Gotthard, we get Leo Leoni and Nic Maeder…

…Who?

Underwhelmed in the underpass you soon arrive at the space for part two of Prince’s conceit.

What you get at both sites are a large number of huge acrylics on canvas (all works entitled Super Group, 2015–17, unless otherwise specified). Intimidatingly, there are loads of them. Many have a background lilac wash or pink hue, and most have additional collaged elements stuck or stapled onto the surfaces.

One key ingredient is the addition of several blank white inner sleeves that once held vinyl records. Maybe Prince fancies getting the platters all scratched to bits in order to achieve an effect similar to Aidan Moffat’s L. Pierre project with its pleasingly ambient pops and nicks. The circular aperture where we normally spy the delights of the record label is now a dark void. And then on top of these constructions Prince scrawls repetitive wordings à la Jean-Michel Basquiat. These say things like TEN YEARS AFTER or KING CRIMSON. Occasionally there are other more solid materials stuck on to the canvas, such as paint encrusted CDs.

And then there are the black bras. Real ones stuck down as with Black Bra (Super Group) 2017. This, we are told in the press release, is a reference to a band Prince was in back in the dim and distant. The King of Appropriation Art, we learn, refers to this act as self-appropriation – cannibalizing his own past. He reanimates his old Hippie Drawing figures from the early 2000’s and sketches a few of these, too, on top of some of the works here.

The bra stunt is, one might argue, badly timed given the Harvey Weinstein harassment story currently plastering the media. Prince’s work has not infrequently featured sexist imagery in the past and one assumes his argument for using the bras, for annexing those old biker girlfriend images, goes something along the line of the standard Warholian position that they reflect who we are – that by now tired ‘I’ll be your mirror’ defence, m’lord.

Deadpan comedy has been a constant in Prince’s work. As evidence see his oft-repeated gag of stencilling unfunny jokes on canvas. Or those cheesy nurse romance book covers beloved of Sonic Youth that now sell for over nine million dollars. Ditto his commandeering of photographic works that predictably manage to rile the original photographers to levels of near apoplectic anger – a bemused who gives a damn about copyright japery on his part.

Like the KLF, he appeals to an anarchic tendency as regards intellectual property. Prince makes us snicker at those jobbing snappers. And as with the dog Muttley in Wacky Races you can hear a cynical yuk yuk at their ire. But what happens when these carefully crafted and deliberately un-amusing jokes for those in the know are now at everyone’s expense?

Prince, we might argue, is a Dick Dastardly figure who has won the race and all the prizes but somehow still hates us all. He’s the Timon of Athens of contemporary art: first he gave us diamonds and now he gives us stones. Prince has been the epitome of the art provocateur but – as with comedian James Corden’s recent experience – eventually you piss a lot of people off with your brazenly sardonic jibes.

And what of those scribbling’s on the works here? Are these band names really his favourites? The net effect is like scrawling through someone’s iPod. You nod and nod at the iconic (yup, I like them too) but then there is the gasp of incredulity. He likes…you what? Mike Bloomfield’s name features a tad too heavily here for my comfort.

Prince is an old hippie, a veteran of Woodstock, and there’s a whiff of Q magazine about this show, it’s all a bit Mojo, a tad trad dad. On the other hand these Super Group paintings have pointed me back to some excellence – the last and reportedly final album by A Tribe Called Quest – whose cover featured one of Prince’s images from the series. They appear to have got the best of the bunch.

So I didn’t like the new works, but hey, he’s done some amazing stuff in the past. Perhaps it’s like the second side of ‘Yellow Submarine’ or Bowie’s version of ‘God Only Knows’. It can happen to anyone.

Richard Prince: Super Group is at Max Hetzler, Berlin, until 28 October

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