The artist Richard Prince has created a series of portraits that has totally pissed off and confounded the public (for many artists, this would be victory number one). The series of ‘portraits’ are really just printed versions of other peoples’ Instagram photos. Prince’s pieces are priced at $90k. The Instagram comments sections include comments written by Prince – kind of the artist’s postmodern, digital signature on each piece (see bottom of this post for gallery photo).
The show has created controversy and dialogue surrounding two important subjects: ownership and value of artistic content in the digital era. This dialogue is victory number two for Prince’s series.
As if to underline the misunderstanding of Prince’s intentions, one of the original Instagram photographers is selling her original work for $90, as if that’s a bargain. This is to totally miss the point. First of all, she’s not selling a Richard Prince. Prince is a world-famous fine artist who has a 40-year career of appropriating imagery. And that’s the most important point: Prince’s work performs the classic Warholian Pop Art trick of taking a mundane, everyday image (an otherwise value-less Instagram photo) and using context (including but not limited to authorship, gallery setting, and price tag) to elevate the item to fine art status. Therein lies the value. It’s no different than Warhol’s Campbell’s soup cans. Prince could’ve used anyone’s photos, and to sell the original Instagram photo itself is to remove the context and miss the point.