Richard Prince by Jeff Rian, Rosetta Brooks, and Luc Sante (Phaidon Press)
F urthering its excellent series of contemporary artist's monographs, Phaidon has recently published Richard Prince, a critical reassessment of the elusive, image-pirating appropriationist who was one of the true art world superstars of the 1980's. Prince's most famous body of work, Cowboys, depicts Marlboro advertisements that the artist re-photographed, with almost no manipulation, except to exclude all text. His goal was to use "the camera as electronic scissors." As appropriation, authorship, and consumerist media critique became hot topics of the 80's, his name, usually coupled with that other re-photographer, Sherrie Levine, became synonymous with that brief era, despite his prolific output in painting, photography, language, bookmaking, and even sculpture. Phaidon's new monograph refreshingly explores the subtext of Prince's work through essays, an interview, selected artist writings, and a well-curated selection of new and signature Prince work.

After the cowboy series, Prince began working on his Girlfriends: re-photographed half-nude biker chicks lounging on their boyfriend's hogs. He explored Borscht-belt humor, painting tired jokes with themes of alienation. A series of low relief sculptures followed; hoods of muscle cars, which Prince lacquered and hung as ready-mades. Moving to upstate New York, he began a set of "earnest" photographs that focused on inept, depressing features of the rural landscape, such as basketball goals nailed to trees and planters made from discarded tires. Luc Sante describes Prince's subject matter as "aggressive American popular imagery that has little or no basis in tradition." The only tradition detectable is one of hostility and neurosis that has been packaged as seduction and glamour. The misogynist jokes, the naked biker chicks, the hot rods, and the desolate abandoned promise of a forgotten basketball hoop all signal a mask or distraction that conceal disease, alienation, and even an undertone of violence. As Rosetta Brooks says, "Every time he copies or re-photographs, a kind of death of the original is the ultimate outcome."

For any fan of Richard Prince who can't afford the swank two-volume, slip cased Paintings - Photographs book set that came out last year, Phaidon has release a formidable collection of Prince's work that, will be useful to both newcomers and those who have been following his work for years. CHAS BOWIE