At the tail end of the perfect weather last week, a new Richard Prince exhibition, Richard Prince: The Tiffany Paintings arrived at the Gagosian Gallery uptown. The opening of the show of recent large-scale paintings and newsprint collages was celebrated at a rooftop cocktail party that could have been memorialized in society pages, and covered with thick layers of paint. The overall reception of the works was positive, although the crowd mostly lingered on the terrace outdoors, where the air was warm and the lights from Park Avenue apartments twinkled like jewels (or, perhaps, Tiffany’s diamonds) as the daylight began to fade. In the crowd, a soft-spoken Jeff Koons patiently indulged fans and journalists as they swarmed to get a word with him. “I really liked the show,” he told me, moving languidly towards the exit. “I thought that the paintings were very moving.”
CYNTHIA ROWLEY AND BILL POWERS. PHOTOS BY BRIENNE WALSH
Prince’s newest paintings are mostly bold monochromatic combines that share in common a Tiffany’s advertisement from the New York Times in the upper right hand corner. Recurring elements from the newspaper include obituaries and ad copy, the text of which are mostly obscured by thick brushstrokes and layered paint. References to the outmoded and the familiar abound, as do the nods of the works of Abstract Expressionist artists, Rauschenberg’s combines, and Mark Rothko’s color field paintings. In The Fountainhead (2010), the red and black acrylic paint, foreboding and deathly, obscure all of the text except for that of the Tiffany’s ad, a necklace. It sparks a recollection of elements that are both constant and invisible to readers of the New York Times, of advertisements for jewels that are so extravagant as to be fantasy and so ubiquitous on the pages that they almost disappear. A lot more could be said about the relationship between Prince’s paintings and the commodification of death but Bill Powers summed up the work when he said, “For me, they are about the first rule of real estate. Location, location, location.”
As the night wore on, a group of Prince enthusiasts gathered near the elevator, as if he were the pop star, waiting for him to arrive and sign various types of memorabilia. Stanley Light is owner of Dallas’ Light & Sie Gallery, which he claims is among the best in the Lonestar state. “It’s like New York has landed in Dallas,” he told me. His main accessory of the evening was a limited edition Richard Prince Louis Vuitton bag in bright red plastic. An autograph enthusiast from a young age, Light was hopeful that the artist would grant his request for a signature on the bag. “I think that autographs are a version of a piece of art,” he explained. “I could only imagine what it would be like to have my piece of art by Louis Vuitton signed by Richard Prince. It would be like three pieces in one.”
The artist remained elusive, and didn’t showing up until his fans had mostly dispersed, and the guards turned off the lights in the gallery. Crushed by well wishers, he respectfully declined my request for a photograph, but couldn’t avoid the onslaught of fellow celebrities, many not quite as famous, who wrapped their arms around his shoulder to take snapshots on their digital cameras. At the exit to the gallery on Madison Avenue, Stanley Light waited for a cab. “Did you get your autograph?” I asked. “No, he wasn’t even there!” he responded, a bit despondent. It broke my heart to tell Light that he had left at the crucial moment.
THE TIFFANY PAINTINGS ARE ON VIEW THROUGH JUNE 19. GAGOSIAN IS LOCATED AT 980 MADISON, NEW YORK.