April 27, 2012

Richard Prince makes another goddam phony


If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is why, on a warm fall day last year, James Frey was standing in Central Park selling copies of The Catcher in the Rye off a blanket on the ground.

In fact, the books in question weren’t copies of The Catcher in the Rye, but rather editions of sculpture by Richard Prince (seated, wearing a blazer, in the photo above) titled The Catcher in the Rye, comprising—you guessed it—perfect facsimiles of J.D. Salinger‘s book, with Prince’s name substituted for the author’s:

Considering a number of recent legal judgments, including one against Prince for appropriating photographs from Patrick Cariou‘s book Yes, Rasta, and one against the Swedish author Fredrik Colting (by the same judge) for writing a book featuring a character based on Holden Caulfield, Prince’s The Catcher in the Rye would seem a perfect storm of legal liability. And according to a blog post for the Poetry Foundation by Kenneth Goldsmith, the sculpture almost seems to be a dare:

It was a dead-ringer through and through—not a word was changed—with the exception that the following disclaimer was added to the colophon page: “This is an artwork by Richard Prince. Any similarity to a book is coincidental and not intended by the artist.” Most shockingly, the colophon concluded with: © Richard Prince.

No lawsuit’s been filed against Prince in this case so far, but one imagines it’s only a matter of time. Still, as Salinger himself wrote in Franny and Zooey, ”An artist’s only concern is to shoot for some kind of perfection, and on his own terms, not anyone else’s.”


Christopher King is the Art Director of Melville House.