New York CityGagosian Gallery
Richard Prince: Hoods
May 10 – June 25, 2022
Richard Prince’s body shop of horrors here, a deconstruction of the American vehicle, is an elegantly orchestrated grand guignol of stock and customized hood forms as stand-ins for paintings with a few minimalist asides of free-standing parts and whole muscle car carcasses. And is there any American dream machine more representative of the restless substance of “American Spirituality” than the Fordist automobile? A pure product of the assembly line gone mad, the American car is the perfect prima materia from which Prince can ignite innumerable false starts. The wall-bound hoods contain galaxies of fiberglass and Bondo biomorphic forms, in multiple colors often approximating early Rothkos, derived from the kind of obsessive additive and subtractive sculptural process in car culture needed to obtain a “customized” status. It’s the kind of deeply sardonic yet dumbly engaging formal joke that Prince habitually drops into all his work: “Here’s a rack of interchangeable parts derived from mechanized pop culture that I’m going to further customize, and in the process parasitically hack the very host-dependent process of pop culture itself, all the while maintaining the cool disinterest of the consummate used-car salesman.” The audience (or critic) is made to play the part of the hapless consumer to Prince’s devilish schtick, the clutch of which he’s made so easy to engage.
A mostly untitled series of early “Hoods” (circa 1987–1990) is distributed in two sections of this sprawling show. Hung together, these are the most minimal on display and relatively subdued in their surface treatment. Their colors recall the muted, clay like hues of early Brice Marden, yet equally the anodyne color treatments typical of Allan McCollum’s roughly contemporary series of plaster “Surrogates.” McCollum’s deployment of proxy objecthood was characteristic of a cadre of artists that emerged from the 1980’s such as Sherrie Levine, Cindy Sherman and Jeff Koons, to which Prince is certainly attached, yet in this show he definitely brings his painterly game to court. Besides the obvious reference to painting in the frontal display and basic planarity of his pop tabula rasa, as early as 2001 with Grease Lightning, for instance, Prince gets more fully engaged with the slight surface variations and colors inherent to the process of building up and then sanding down the body filler for custom car modifications like the air scoop protuberance in this piece. It’s primarily limited in hue to the auto-prep colors of gray primer and pink Bondo. The artist’s adherence to such base materiality lends this and a somewhat related work, American Dream (2007-08), a crass yet rather classical solemnity. Coming Down The Mountain (2006) is the most painterly of this selection because of its very gestural and asymmetric swaths of ground and sanded steel and Bondo mounted on wood. Such a mounting suggests the template modelling associated with the vacuum forming or mold making processes of industrial prototyping, as do two large free-standing sculptures here, The Sound (2004–2005) and Season of the Witch (2006). In each of these a scooped hood tops a primer gray block that extrudes its form down to the ground, therefore comprising a built- in base. There’s an obvious stylistic nod to the phenomenological essence that exudes from a Donald Judd or Tony Smith. The latter’s cubic Die (1968) was titled in such a way to ambiguously refer to the mortal wager yet also to the serial reproducibility (and so recurrent immortality) of industrial tool and die production. Considering the often phallic association with auto-erotics and custom car fetishism, one could say Prince’s sensibility here falls somewhere between Duchamp’s Nine Malic Molds (1915) and Smith’s Die, with a certain ludic flick of Smith’s shooting from the hip.
Other off-the-wall works include Abstract Threat (2006) and Untitled (2014). The first is a welding of a basketball hoop to another hood while the second is a mostly stock but partially deconstructed Dodge Challenger. Two critical questions arise when encountering these works, since they seem rather fringe to Prince’s usually artful dissemblance. The awkward hybrid quality of the two generic forms in Abstract Threat tends, paradoxically, to muddy the purity of their squalid marriage, while the hot orange readymade of Untitled protests too much of Prince’s characteristic cool. Nevertheless, he successfully stages in the overall show, as he has done across his career, an American mirror intervention, so that a critical apperception of its archetypal templates prompts a reflexive subjective/objective projection, further chopped, lowered and customized by Prince’s complicitly conflicted interest as American fine artist/pop connoisseur.