Richard Prince Jokes: Portrait & Landscape

Richard Prince, untitled (Milton Berle), 2021. Inkjet on canvas, 100 × 46 1/4 inches. image: Richard Prince via

The Georgia Museum of Art at the University of Georgia in Athens just opened, Richard Prince: Tell Me Everything, an exhibition of joke-related works that seems to focus on new work related to the original joke files of the 20th century comedian Milton Berle. [If you’re within six hours of Athens today, Feb. 21, the exhibition’s curator Shawnya Harris is giving a gallery talk at 2:00. So get going.]

Two 4-ft tall four cabinets of Milton Berle’s jokes, sold at Bonham’s in 2013. There were also two short cabinets and six banker’s boxes of “loose joke file material”

Over his eight decades in show business, Berle had collected, organized, and annotated thousands of jokes on 3×5 inch index cards. Prince acquired four file cabinets of Berle’s jokes from an auction in 2013.

In his second deposition, made in 2018 for the [recently settled] lawsuits over Instagram portraits, Prince talked at length about his use of jokes, and transforming something heard into something seen.

Richard Prince, untitled (Milton Berle), 2021. Inkjet on canvas, 118 3/4 × 55 1/4 inches
image: Richard Prince via

When I first saw these images, I figured that their elongated, portrait-style dimensions reflected a decade of Prince using an iPhone as a studio. But they also simultaneously read as landscapes, with joke mesas extending to a cropped out horizon, a western desert begging for a cowboy. Then I saw the file cabinets, and realized these images also map to their subject, and the experience of living with these physical objects made over decades from words, ideas and language.