Photo of a Photo

05.29.14

Richard Prince Goes Meta on Instagram

Richard Prince is known for exploring the art of appropriation. But after being banned—and then reinstated—by Instagram, he’s taking things even farther with a new social-media series.

When 64-year-old artist Richard Prince purchased his iPhone last year, he immediately recognized its artistic usefulness—starting with Instagram. “It’s almost like it was invented for someone like me,” he told Vulture in March. “It’s like carrying around a gallery in your pocket … Everything became easy.” It also became very complicated.

That month, Prince—a well-known purveyor of rephotographed artworks—had posted a photo of his 1983 Spiritual America, a work that features a 10-year-old Brooke Shields standing fully undressed in a bathtub. The work itself is a photo of an image commissioned by Sheild’s mother and photographed by Gary Gross, so things got pretty meta (even for Prince) when he added another layer by posting a photo of his work to Instagram. The platform has a strict “no-nudity” policy, however, and they quickly shut the artist’s account down.

And he’s not the only one. 

International Pop diva, Rihanna, recently posted a photo of her cover spread for French men’s magazine Lui, which featured the singer topless. Instagram immediately suspended her account. A similar situation happened with a much more PG image from Vogue fashion staple Grace Coddington, who posted a simple sketch of herself sunbathing topless. These two acts have resulted in a larger campaign, ignited by Scout Willis—daughter to Bruce and Demi Moore—to #FreeTheNipple on Instagram.

But, Prince is taking a different approach. Instead of protesting the platform, he is creating an entirely new “contemporary art moment” by “adding another wrinkle to his modern meta-take on sex, art and appropriation.” Since returning to Instagram on May 18th, Prince has been scouring the depths of the millions of social feeds, printing out screenshots of posted photos, rephotographing them, and posting them to his account: a-photo-of-a-photo-of-a-photo.

These images—often featuring the users in borderline compromising poses—include Karley Slutever, Laurie Simmons, Pamela Anderson, Jessica Hart, and Petra Collins (who was also temporarily suspended). Whether or not the prints will become Richard Prince originals is unclear, but one thing is for sure: the artist may have seriously outdone himself this time. Bravo.