Richard Prince is a notorious art world heel. He has gotten very rich from appropriating other people’s photos. He’s been doing this for years with magazines and advertisements, but now he’s gone too far, PetaPixel alleges. He’s been selling printed-out screenshots of other people’s Instagram posts without the creators’ permission at the Frieze art fair for nearly $100,000. But is anyone buying them?
Regardless, the photos comprise a series called “New Portraits,” which ran at the Gagosian Gallery from September to October of last year. At the time, New York’s art critic Jerry Saltz called the show “genius trolling,” a topic Saltz knows well. Here’s Saltz on Prince’s technique:
Prince scrolls or trolls Instagram feeds. For hours. He’s a real wizard of his tastes; as honed to his needs as Humbert Humbert was to where Lolita was in the house…Prince finds an image he likes, comments on it, makes a screen-grab with his iPhone, and sends the file — via email — to an assistant. From here, the file is cropped, printed as is, stretched, and presto: It’s art. Or stuff that’s driving others crazy for a variety of reasons.
Some of Prince’s subjects are celebrities, but most are semi-famous young women. PetaPixel focuses on a woman named Doe Deere, whose appropriated selfie sold for $90,000 over the weekend. She only found about Prince using her photo a few days ago, and says she did not give him permission. She is not planning to sue him, but it doesn’t sound like he’s sharing the profits with his unwitting collaborator, which is probably the right thing to do.
Prince has a long history with tussling over copyright. Appropriation and repurposing is kind of his thing (he’s like proto-Tumblr), and whatever he does, that issue will come up. Here, though, there’s the other issue of an old, rich, and influential man exploiting the images of young women. He’s profiting off of people weaker than him without their consent. Fair use or not, that’s super skeezy. And then there’s the arrogance of Prince declaring his dumb emojified Instagram comments more valuable than the carefully posed image uploaded by the creator. Being a “genius troll” shouldn’t excuse his shitty behavior. Just because he can do it doesn’t mean he should.
(Photo: Doe Deere)