Artists Q&A

‘I Don’t Know Half as Much as There Is to Know, But at Least I Know Half’: A Talk with Richard Prince

Richard Prince, Untitled (portrait), 2015. SEBASTIAN PIRAS/©RICHARD PRINCE/COURTESY RICHARD PRINCE

Richard Prince, Untitled (portrait), 2015.

SEBASTIAN PIRAS/©RICHARD PRINCE/COURTESY RICHARD PRINCE

Bill Powers: Why is Kelly Madison your favorite movie star?
Richard Prince: Because I know her. I don’t know any other movie stars. I’ve photographed her a couple of times in L.A. She makes her own movies. Runs her own production and distribution company. Most of the movies she makes, she’s in. And she’s never messed with her God-given body.

BP: Is it true that a famous serial killer once worked at the post office near your Harlem studio?
RP: David Berkowitz. Son of Sam. Right across the street from my studio. In the post office. What’d he shoot? Like, seven people? I’m not sure if it’s true, but Berkowitz told the police that a neighbor’s dog talked to him. Told him to kill people who were necking in cars parked in Lover’s Lane. Fucking making out and you get one in the head.

BP: The best super group of all time?
RP: Blind Faith was the first super group, wasn’t it? I don’t know. Crosby, Stills & Nash? Not sure if they qualify as a super group, but Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys swing pretty hard.

BP: Who should we elect as our next president?
RP: I don’t vote. Why? There’s no one to vote for. Never has been. I didn’t even vote for class president in high school. Bunch of schmucks. Seriously. They’re all the same. Always have been. I grew up having to stomach Nixon and Spiro Agnew. Who the fuck cares? Can you tell me who the president of France was when Gauguin was off in Tahiti painting his beautiful paintings?

BP: Is it true that you got death threats over your recent Instagram portraits?
RP: Yes, that’s true. Can you believe that? The Instagram portraits hit a nerve. “Is it safe?” That’s the way some people reacted. Like I was Laurence Olivier in Marathon Man. No Novocain. Drilling into an exposed cavity.

BP: I heard you put your mother in a Jewish nursing home because she was anti-Semitic.
RP: My mother was a lot of things. Old-school Republican. Worked for Joe Kennedy back in the ’40s. Joined the OSS in World War Two. Just before she died she told me how she used to hide in people’s closets. That’s when we lived in Panama. Spy vs. Spy shit. I was never sure what to believe. Innuendo. Half-truths. That’s how I grew up. I never knew what she or my father did for a living. I never cared. I did put her in a Jewish nursing home when she was in her 90s. Why? I always wanted a Jewish mother.

BP: Did you once get fired from a bookstore for fucking the owner’s wife?
RP: I never got fired for fucking the wife of the bookstore’s owner. He wasn’t the owner.

BP: What is your definition of a pervert?
RP: I know you want some kind of sexual zinger, but I think people who fuck dead people is the only thing I can come up with. People who drug people and wait for them to pass out and then fuck them. Is that too obvious? Or am I being obtuse?

BP: What’s the story with those black bra paintings?
RP: That was the name of a rock band I was in when I stayed in Rome in ’90 to ’91. It was me and this girl Dennis. The only thing she wore onstage was a black bra. She was keying off Valie Export. I was riffing on Mose Allison on piano, only sonically. I was a loud Jimmy Jiver. We always played two different songs at the same time. Dennis was a part-time terrorist. She had it in for the Pope. She hated religion. Said religion fucked everything up. She once went to the Vatican and defecated “in their temple.” She got arrested. Did five days in the stir. When she emerged, she started wearing an additional black bra over the one she was already wearing. She claimed four tits were better than two. I never argued with her. I was too busy learning how to play “My Way.” There are a lot of chords in that song.

BP: Glenn O’Brien’s pet peeve on social media is when people wish happy birthday to dead celebrities. Do you have any pet peeves?
RP: Junior minds. I’m a snob. I don’t know half as much as there is to know. But at least I know half.

BP: There’s a story that there was a Madonna album cover shot on your bed?
RP: Like A Virgin. Yes. In my bed. That’s where the photograph was taken. Steven Meisel took the photo. The best thing about that day was riding around with Steven Meisel and Lisa Robinson. We went out that night to Coney Island. Senior minds. Nonstop exformation superb! They were mutiny on the bounty. Thrilling. They should have had their own TV show.

Richard Prince lives and works in New York City. His solo show at Barbara Gladstone, “Cowboy,” closed last month.

A version of this story originally appeared in the November 2015 issue of ARTnews on page 20 under the title “‘I Don’t Know Half as Much as There Is to Know, But at Least I Know Half’: A Talk with Richard Prince.”

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