Richard Prince and the Beautiful Hand
Richard Prince and the Beautiful Hand – Background
Firstly, let me acknowledge that I am probably the biggest duh-brain art dealer of the late 20th Century. In 1975, I opened Kathryn Markel Fine Arts, my tiny gallery on 57th Street and one of the first artists I exhibited was the brilliant, seminal, (and now very rich) art world phenome, Richard Prince. I loved the work he was making at the time. His medium was paper and he combined many techniques – etching , collage, drawing, whiteout, photos. Often, light washes of gray aquatint covered parts of typed words that were in turn covered with a translucent medium that functioned like whiteout. These hidden messages evoked a nostalgia for the corporate. The etchings were also amazing – an elegant line built images and words that created a kind of a pop poetry. The works were beautifully crafted peons to contemporary life. I exhibited his work three times first in November 1975, and sold a number of pieces to various institutions – among them The Brooklyn Museum and The Walker Museum in Minneapolis.
As I recall, and we’re talking many years ago, Richard and I had a cordial, professional relationship. We were both just starting out and I think he was pleased that I had sold a number of pieces to good collections. He could also count on me to help out when he occasionally needed some extra money. If I happened to have some extra money – which was rare at the time – I was happy to purchase pieces directly. The work was beautiful and I loved it.
Then, in 1980 or thereabouts, Richard stopped making beautiful art. When I made a studio visit, he showed me these rephotographed photographs. I could see how he was deconstructing a ubiquitous media, trying to reproduce its banalities and conventions – but I hated it. I remember distinctly what was perhaps our last conversation. When I saw the new work, I said, “Where is the hand, Richard? I miss the hand!” He said, ” I’m not going to use the hand anymore. It’s too easy” He quietly explained to stupid me, that beautiful mark making was too facile. I guess it’s hard to be a tough intellectual artist if you’re also a beautiful painter.
So there I was – at the birth of picture art – art as image – image as strategy, image as the visualization of ideas – images deconstructing the media, the genders, the politics, images hugely intellectually important in ways I’ll never comprehend – and still for me -sadly- really, really boring. We parted ways. I didn’t want to work with art that was purely intellectual. I wanted then and still want now, art that speaks to my senses as well as my mind.
(Now all you folks in the art world – stop and think about exactly what I did there. Is this the major art world stupid moment of the last century or what? )