Smith on Prince: 1992 and 2007

Roberta Smith, writing on Richard Prince's mid-career retrospective at the Whitney in 1992 (NY Times sign-in probably required):

In addition, whether glamorous or tawdry, the preponderance of photographs in the exhibition's first three galleries can make one wonder if the show wouldn't actually have made a better catalogue. (This speculation is borne out by the show's own terrific-looking catalogue, where these images are arrayed in a snappy scattershot style, undoubtedly overseen by Mr. Prince, and fleshed out by four informative essays and snippets of the artist's writings.)

Fortunately, and unlike many of his contemporaries, Mr. Prince has gone on to apply the principle of appropriation to a broad number of media, including language itself. In so doing, he has brought into clearer focus the strangely poignant, self-deprecating malaise that pervades all his work. In addition, he has made his obsession with artistic issues, and especially issues involving painting, more and more apparent.

His sculptures, his weakest work from the late 80's, consist of mail-order car hoods, repainted by the artist and displayed on the wall like unusually streetwise Minimalist reliefs. His drawings are stand-up comedy jokes, written by hand on typewriter paper...

Roberta Smith, writing on Richard Prince's mid-career retrospective at the Guggenheim in 2007:

Mr. Prince’s ancestors include Duchamp, Jasper Johns and especially Andy Warhol. But unlike Warhol, he is much less interested in the stars than in the audience. Thus he is just as much an heir to Walker Evans and Carson McCullers, with their awareness of the common person.

Over the years, Mr. Prince has shown himself to be in touch with the same shamed, shameless side of America that gave us tell-too-much talk shows, reality TV and the current obsession with celebrity. Practically every last American could find something familiar, if usually a bit unsettling, in his work. If he were the Statue of Liberty, the words inscribed on his base might read: Give me your tired, your poor, but also your traveling salesmen and faithless wives; your biker girlfriends, porn stars, custom-car aficionados and wannabe celebrities; as well as your first-edition book collectors (of which he is one).

It often seems that Mr. Prince has never met a piece of contemporary Americana he couldn’t use. Customized checks with images of SpongeBob SquarePants or Jimi Hendrix? He pastes them to canvas and paints on them. Mail-order fiberglass hoods for muscle cars? He hangs them on the wall — instant blue-collar Minimalist reliefs. Planters made of sliced and splayed truck tires? There’s one at the Guggenheim, cast in white resin, where the fountain should be. Is it a comment on the work of Matthew Barney, a gallery-mate who had his own Guggenheim fete? Probably. But from above it resembles a plastic toy crown or the after-splash of milk in that famous stop-action Harold Edgerton photograph.

What's not said is that between the first and second reviews the artist's stock continued to rise so that he is now an unstoppable "player" in the art world. Oh, sorry, I mean, er, the artist's maturation and the critic's deepening understanding of his work contributed to a mellower, more glowing critical tribute for the second mid-career retrospective.