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Richard Prince artwork, @thongria
courtesy of Twitter/@RichardPrince4

Richard Prince causes more controversy with his Instagram appropriation art

‘What Richard is doing is questionably legal, but even if something is legal and ‘starts a dialogue’ it doesn’t mean you should actually do it.’

Richard Prince, artist and appropriation aficionado – a controversial connoisseur of copying – drew more criticism yesterday for his art plucked from other people’s Instagrams. Dazed writers have debated this repurposing before, but this time it’s one of Prince’s subjects that has something to say about it.

“Imagine my surprise when I saw Richard Prince tweet a 6ft inkjet printed picture of a screenshot of an Instagram post of mine,” Zoë Ligon (@thongria) writes, “hanging up in my hometown of Detroit at MOCAD. I didn’t consent to my face hanging in this art gallery.”

Alongside her statement is Richard Prince’s tweet (posted October 8) showing the artwork in question, a screenshot of a selfie posted to her Instagram with a caption discussing “sexual freedom, which inherently includes matters of class, race, gender and ability”. 

Prince has added a pretty nonsensical comment (though not his usual creepy uncle stuff, posted from his own account) that reads: “Red Bra & 21thow others. Right now Golden State Warriors are killin it. Arugula salad. Sum potato chips & a Diet Coke. Looks 2B cousins and nieces. Solid back to Jerry Lee.”

In her post about the artwork, Ligon acknowledges that it is “questionably legal” (he has been hit with several lawsuits over similar work in the past) but continues: “even if something is legal and ‘starts a dialogue’ it doesn’t mean you should actually do it. Not all legal things are ethical.” 

“This, in my opinion, is a reckless, embarrassing, and uninformed critique of social media and public domain.”

And that’s the thing: whether it’s legal, is it even good art any more? “This isn’t progressive, this isn’t even subversive,” says Ligon. “Maybe it was when he began doing this in 1977, but in 2019 it’s tone deaf.”

A self-described “survivor of childhood sexual abuse”, she also says: “Part of the reason I take ‘sexy selfies’ is because I am reclaiming my own sexualized image.”

By reappropriating such an image, Richard Prince not only takes it out of most people’s price range, but dilutes/distorts this act of reclamation, as well as the discussion of sexual freedom in the description. Then again, maybe that’s the point.