Back to the Garden, 2008
Inkjet, acrylic and collage on canvas
80 x 120 inches (203.2 x 304.8 cm). Image courtesy of Gagosian Gallery, NY.
What follows is brief interrogation of myself on the subject of the Cariou/Prince Affair, by Bernard Klevickas, first posted as comments on Ed Winkleman's blog (March 28, 2011):
Bernard Klevickas: [Patrick] Cariou took the photos. He did the legwork to produce the images. He wanted them displayed a certain way and (as I understand it) has a right to see through his vision commercially of the photographs as he wants.
Joy Garnett: Of course. And no one, not [Richard] Prince, nor his appropriations, are stopping him from continuing to do so. On the other hand, Cariou's lawsuit inflicts those very same conditions of obstruction upon Prince and his work, and more.
BK: Prince appropriates the images and forever changes the way they will be interpreted, no matter how Cariou then decides to display them the context has been altered by Prince.
JG: Good point. However, no image is "safe" from being experienced in contexts other than those intended -- that lies far beyond the artist's control, and always has. Context cannot be nailed to your work. As the world changes, so do conditions for experiencing art, and so does the meaning of the artwork, for better or for worse. It is true that photojournalists in particular tend to want to control the context in which their work is experienced. This has a lot to do with the history of photojournalism and news agencies/wire services. But where this control impinges upon free speech -- either critique by others or use in others' works that reference them -- this desire to control context is overreaching. Imho artists really need to learn to defend themselves from this kind of overreaching control, not censure their own work and process in order to preempt it.
BK: Perhaps he could have made money off of the new context of the works, but believing he had a reasonable case against Prince he chose court.
JG: Yes, of course he could have just piggybacked on Prince's success. In fact, he already has :-) You opt to go to court because you feel you've been victimized. "Feel" is the operative word here. Such decisions to litigate are fueled by emotion; and yet "feeling" you've been victimized doesn't necessarily mean you have been. In this instance it looks like there were other things going on as well, including a dealer working with Cariou in order to squeeze Prince/Gogo for some $$$.
BK: Considering "Molotov Man" as an example the original photographer did not intend (as I understand it) to display her photo of "Molotov Man" as art in a gallery.
JG: The painting is entitled "Molotov". And actually, Susan Meiselas has displayed her photograph, entitled "Esteli, 1979", in galleries and museums on multiple occasions; ("Molotov Man" was how she referred to the figure in the shot). Like lots of crossover photojournalist/artists, she has shown many of her photographs in art galleries for decades.
Please remember to distinguish her photograph from my painting -- this will also help to distinguish Cariou's photographs from Prince's paintings in this discussion. And so: I never displayed her photograph; I displayed my painting. Prince never displayed Cariou's photographs; he displayed his own paintings.
L: Joy Garnett: "Molotov" (2003) 70 x 60 inches. Oil on canvas.
R: Found jpeg (source image).
BK: Plus this was a single image of which you found online and then cropped to focus only on the molotov cocktail thrower.
JG: Nope: I found the source image for my painting as a pre-cropped, uncredited jpeg, on a blog. I grabbed the entire cropped jpeg and used that as my source image. Sometimes I crop; back then I didn't because the idea was to let the actual paint and act of painting do the transforming...
BK: Prince used many (40, I think) images from the book (and the images were only in book from, not published online, I think).
JG: Prince used a large number of Cariou's Rasta images, all found in the book Yes Rasta published in 2000. I think he used 41 or 44 images in all. He also took a large number of Richard Kern's cheesecake photographs and worked them onto the same canvases as the Rasta scans. He did a number of things to tweak those images, transforming them into one-of-a-kind objects, from his mass-produced photographic sources. Prince's work has always commented on mass culture -- it all makes sense.
What's really interesting is that people willfully choose to ignore what Prince did to the images once he scanned them, as if he took Cariou's photographs and nailed them to the gallery walls. So if you never saw them and don't believe me, here's a brief description on the Gogo site:
"Some images, scanned from originals, are printed directly onto the base canvas; others are 'dragged on,' using a primitive collage technique whereby printed figures are roughly cut out, then the backs of those figures painted and pasted directly onto the base canvas with a squeegee so that the excess paint squirts out on and around the image. On top of this are violently suggestive swipes and drips of livid paint and scribbles of oil-stick crayon which, together with the comic, abstract sign-features that mask each figure's face...much of what shows up on the surface is incidental to the process."
This brings up something else that's pretty important, and that distinguishes the Cariou photos from the Prince paintings: that thing called "facture" -- the sense of how a painting was made -- what went into it, "the hand", etc., and history, the history of painting and visual media itself. This comparison offers another way to look at Prince's work. For anyone who got to see them in the flesh, their facture was pronounced and inescapable. (This, obviously, does not come across in jpegs). And with straight photography such as Cariou's, there is no facture at all; such photographs opt instead for the myth of "transparency", discarding facture altogether.
That and the fact that mass produced photographs are fundamentally different entities from one-of-a-kind paintings should give anyone pause before jumping to the conclusion that Prince simply took someone's photos and threw them up on the wall and sold them for millions. Hey, now that would be stealing ;-)
BK: You clarified some of the things I (admittingly) was uncertain about. This still does not change my opinion. Even Prince uses the word stealing: "I knew what I was stealing 30 years ago but it didn’t matter because no one cared, no one was paying any attention." But, I suppose we could say he can't incriminate himself. I still see it as Prince and Gagosian profiting largely at Cariou's expense and Cariou wanted some of those profits. Should all artists now be paranoid of being accused of theft? Hell no. Carou is David beating Goliath.
Why should Goliath always win?
JG: Why should Goliath always win? This indeed expresses the real reason why so many people -- artists included -- want to see Prince go down. But it has nothing to do with the case, which is still dangerous precedent.