Appropriation Show and Tell: “Canal Zone” by Richard Prince

by | Oct 5, 2018 | Show & Tell, Uncategorized

The example I chose was one of Richard Prince’s paintings from his 2008 collection “Canal Zone”, which “featured” several pictures from French Photographer Patrick Cariou’s 2000 book Yes, Rasta.

One of the questions that defines Richard Prince’s career is “When does something become art?” Prince has made a career of straddling the boundary between appropriation and straight-up theft of other’s work in pursuit of an answer to this question. While Untitled (Cowboy), Prince’s 1989 work, remains his most famous, I think that the above work from “Canal Zone” (Original Photo on the left, Prince’s work on the right) is the most daring.

Unlike Cowboy, which is interesting in its own right and could easily be confused for an original piece, the above piece from “Canal Zone” is so interesting because it is transformed so very little. It’s so brazen, and it seemed so obvious that this was copyright infringement that Cariou sued Prince and won his case in 2011. However, in April of 2013,  when another court overruled the 2011 ruling on five of the ten pieces from “Canal Zone” and paved the way for the five other pieces to be re-evaluated for fair use.

Many people may not like Prince for essentially taking the work of others, transforming it very little, and selling it for massive amounts of money, and I totally understand that. But what I really appreciate about his work is his focus on the legality of appropriation, paving the way for other artists to follow in his footsteps without fear of lawsuit, and his focus on the “Ship of Theseus”-esque question “When does something become art?”