While plagiarism is generally abhorred in artistic circles, controversial artist Richard Prince makes millions by brazenly duplicating others’ work. In his last project, ‘New Portraits’, he took screenshots of 37 Instagram photographs (without permission), blew them up, and displayed them at the Frieze Art Fair New York. One of the portraits – posted by a woman called Doe Deere – reportedly sold for a whopping $90,000!
The portrait in question depicts Deere styled in blue hair, identical to the doll she’s holding. “No I did not give permission and yes, the controversial artist Richard Prince put it up anyway,” Deere wrote on Instagram, where she has 328,000 followers. “It’s already sold ($90k I’ve been told) during the VIP preview. No, I’m not gonna go after him. And nope, I have no idea who ended up with it!” She hashtagged the post #modernart and #wannabuyaninstagrampicture.
That’s probably the easiest $90,000 anyone has ever made, and it isn’t even illegal because Prince bypassed copyright laws by removing Deere’s text and placing his own. “Richard Prince removed my original caption, before printing and displaying it (without my knowledge) in the Frieze Gallery,” said Deere, founder and CEO of cosmetics company LimeCrime.
Prince is actually notorious for abusing this loophole in the law, creating art that heavily relies on the work of others. In 1970s and early 1980s, he would re-photograph magazine ads, crop them, remove text, and regroup them by subject, calling his work ‘social science fiction’. In 2013, he was sued by artist Patrick Cariou, who alleged that Prince stole his photographs for the show ‘Art in America’ and sold them for millions. The court ruled in favor of Prince, stating that his additions to the paintings constituted to fair use.
Prince’s artistic style may have earned him a lot of money, but he’s also received a lot of hate in the bargain. Artnet News covered his Instagram exhibition in a featured titled ‘Richard Prince Sucks’. “Short story short: There’s no reason for the reproductions to exist, except to make Prince a little cash,” the magazine wrote. “This makes the show exceptionally vapid. Don’t go see it. Don’t ever buy the work.”
When questioned, 65-year-old Prince was rather unapologetic about his choice of career, calling himself a ‘collector’. “I don’t see any difference now between what I collect and what I make,” he told the media. His latest exhibition is, ironically, called ‘Original’ – it’s on display at his Manhattan gallery until June 20.