Museo Picasso Málaga , Málaga, Spain
‘Good artists borrow, great artists steal’ is a quote often ascribed to Pablo Picasso. It could also be the motto of Richard Prince, who is known for appropriating existing photographs, and hence taking the Picasso quote almost literarly, something that has caused him copyright lawsuits in the past. After having previously dedicated a series to William De Kooning, tackling the Spanish master seemed the next logical step. The Museo Picasso Málaga shows the resulting outcome in an ambitious exhibition of 116 never-before-seen works, including paintings, collages and photo-collages – the majority realized over the last two years.
In the middle of one of the rooms, a vitrine displays a group of collages made of torn-out reproductions from Picasso catalogues, to which Prince has added his own elements. The way he reworks those reproductions is sometimes hardly noticeable, sometimes very dominant. Some of the pieces could almost be subtle counterfeits, others clearly show a cut out piece of paper the artist painted over and glued to the reproduction. These collages are revisited Picassos, illustrating Prince’s desire to deconstruct the work of his artistic forefather.
In his paintings and drawings, Prince operates – like he did in his De Kooning series – according to the opposite principle. He does not use reproductions of Picasso’s paintings but rather works with existing photographs, to which he adds elements in a style that evokes the famed artist. These are pictures of naked women from a painter’s instruction manual mounted on paper or canvas as ink jet prints. The backgrounds of the works are deliberately left raw, showing wild brushstrokes and other messy elements. Colours are almost absent but the combination of various techniques including ink, acrylic, oil crayon, charcoal and graphite transforms the found photographs into multi-layered works. In these drawings and paintings, Prince clearly adheres to the principle of variety through repetition. Though the subject matter is deliberately restricted – nude female models, sometimes alone, mostly in groups – Prince’s graphic treatment keeps it exciting.
Prince has deformed the models, turning their faces into a grin – in some cases into the head of a faun, their hands into claws and their legs into paws, expressing the same uncanny mix of eroticism and cruelty as Picasso once did. Rather than copying Picasso’s style, he manages to translate the raw sexual energy into a language of his own. Prince clearly captures Picasso’s spirit while not effacing his own signature either. Hence, he does not only ‘quote’ Picasso but also himself. In several paintings he covers one of the women’s faces with small dots, as he did for example in his series ‘Untitled (oh)’ (2009–11), making the found photographs less readable.
In addition to this impressive group of new works, the show also includes watercolours that Prince made in his early twenties, a kind of study of the human figure in the spirit of Picasso. Though this series makes a dull and academic impression, it is interesting to see how Prince evolved from a young painter ‘copying’ an example, to a mature and self-conscious artist who is clearly no longer castrated by the overwhelming talent of his idol, but confident enough to confront him. Bearing in mind the tricky task of revisiting an artist that has been the subject of quotations, parody and pastiche ad infinitum – not just in the art world but also in advertisements and popular culture – Prince can leave the arena with his head up.
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