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.]
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.
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.