June 3, 2012

Richard Prince's Bird Talk

Like, apparently, a lot of folks, particularly writers who are bombarded with awful art press releases, 303 Gallery's announcement for their current show of Richard Prince paintings came as an atypical surprise. It begins:

303 Gallery is pleased to announce our first exhibition of new works by Richard Prince since 1991.

Some people see leaves falling from a tree and see it as, leaves falling from a tree. Others see it as an inexhaustible mystery of the signified from the mundane closed-off simulation of a world sign.

The world is intolerably dreary. You escape it by seeing and naming what had heretofore been unspeakable.

Naming the unnamable and hearing it named.

These paintings should be shown to the man from Mars.

And it goes on with a refreshing WTF-ness that clearly had to be the artist's work, not the gallery's. [That it reminded me of some crypto-poetic, surreal, and increasingly cultish press releases from the early days of the shuttered Daniel Silverstein Gallery only reinforces my impression that Lisa & Mari or whoever did not come up with this stuff.]

What still left me scratching my head, though, was a passage from Richard Prince's deposition where he totally hates on press releases, even when they're written well. Patrick Cariou's lawyer Dan Brooks asked Prince whether he agreed with the press release Gagosian director Louise Neri wrote for Canal Zone [pp293-8 or so]:

DB: But do you find this to be an apt description of your paintings in the Canal Zone exhibition?
MS BART [Gagosian's attorney]: Objection to form.
RP: It's not necessarily the way I would have described it had they asked me to write the press release. But I don't write press releases and I don't read them.
DB: And this is the first time--
RP: I find them -- sorry.
MS. BART: No, you were talking. He interrupted you.
DB: Go ahead.
RP: I find press releases incredibly silly and boring, and I just don't -- I've never wanted anything--because they're really just trying to hype the work. And I don't particularly like to get involved in that.
DB: And, again, this is the first time you're seeing this press release?
RP: This is the first time I'm seeing this.
And so I was kind of amazed that Prince would actually write something for a press release. And so I, like a lot of folks, read it and wondered what it all means.

And it means that I, like most people, haven't read enough of Richard Prince's writings, because if we had, we'd recognize the press release as excerpts from the artist's ongoing accumulation of quips, quotes, comments, and Deep Thoughts, which he has termed, "Bird Talk."

There are a few mentions of it online, and Prince quotes it on his book tumblr, Fulton Ryder, but I can't yet figure out yet when Bird Talk began. The range of texts, though, shows it to be a living document. One comment about audience ["I would imagine my immediate audience are people just like me. People who are thirty-five."] sounds like it's from 1984. A rare book dealer's catalogue description for a proof of Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow comes from 2003. Most bits sound like Prince's observations ["Heavy metal is retriabalizing. (sic)"], but there are two [uncredited] Marshall McLuhan quotes, a reference to a 1965 Ad Reinhardt interview with himself, and at least one fantastical speculation ["Vermeer lost over one hundred paintings in a ship wreck."]

Which means Bird Talk could be seen as a miniature Atlas or Arcades Project on the one [ambitious/generous] hand, or as Prince's fridge door on the other. Whatever it is, it's a useful and highly accessible primary source for the artist's thinking, and even his work ["Rephotography could be a form of re-adjusting sensory bias."] Which almost no one has ever quoted or discussed; on almost every quote I checked, Prince's own website was the sole Google result.

Bird Talk [richardprince.com]
Fulton Ryder, Prince's bookstore/imprint/gallery/tumblr [fultonryder.com]
2010 Prince interview mentions Bird Talk--and the Cariou case [russhmagazine.com]

Since 2001 here at greg.org, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting greg.org that time.

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first published: June 3, 2012.

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