Above: The art exhibition New Portraits, 2014 by Richard Prince. Credit: fair use.
Multi-millionaire artist Richard Prince will be up in court again in the next few weeks for copyright infringement. (This is about his tenth time in all, always for different copyright infringements.) For the works whose status is up for debate this time, Prince screen-shotted photos he found compelling on Insta--including the first few comments posted below the picture--and then blew-up the screenshot to a poster-size photo, which he then framed according to fine-art conventions. This series he titled New Portraits.
Prince argues that he has every right to take any other person's photos and recycle and reuse them as he sees fit in the name of artistic expression. Prince claims fair use when he appropriates, typically progressing the line of argument that his elite art-collector scene is a context that is separated off from the run of almost any other context you care to name and so therefore this change of context becomes, he says, a material transformation of the original one.
The case, due in court in New York within the next few weeks, will decide if his new context argument pleases a judge, or not this time round--the works, from 2014, are all sold, and Prince is not doing work at all like that now, so it's a historical, or if you like philosophical question that is going to get settled. The interesting point here is that Instagram (the source for Prince's works) is itself a platform that is intrinsically post-copyright--people post photos created by anyone without paying a license-fee, or a royalty, all the time. (For example on a rock-star's birthday when people post images of the idol they never worry about copyright.) And that includes photos and artworks by Richard Prince as much as anyone--which many people do post, whether that be his recent work, or aspects of his oeuvre through forty years of art-making practice.
N.B. Prince is on social media but since Trump took office his posts on Twitter are aggressive and hectoring, but it's okay because, as he will tell you, it's all a pose anyway, what he does online is art, and it's just a persona. Prince's ruse on social media is to speak through a character with a personality that mirrors Trump's--if we have Trump tweeting out appalling obscene dishonest statements all the time then RichardPrince4 can and will do the same (fight fire with fire).
(11 October 2018)