Time Out New York / Dec 18–31, 2008

Richard Prince

Although Richard Prince’s new “Canal Zone” series boasts some fine titles—Pumpsie Green, Back to the Garden—the paintings themselves are interchangeable, featuring similar photographic images of nudie pinups linked with a shirtless black man who reappears throughout the show. The works simply lack the perfect pitch of some of the artist’s previous efforts.

Printing or collaging these subjects onto oversize canvases in self-consciously haphazard style, Prince gives them a faux-expressionist frosting of acrylic paint or oil crayon, sometimes adding or distorting elements via gestural overpainting, or masking features with colored spots à la John Baldessari. There are glimmers of formal interest—blown-up strips of tape suggesting translucent brushstrokes, for example—but the overall effect never transcends the sum of its parts.

Supposedly inspired by Prince’s own roots—he was born in the former U.S. exclave in Panama for which the series and show are titled—the compositions imagine a tropical hinterland in which sexual and racial stereotypes clash and mutate unchecked. (Before the United States gave up control in 1979, the Zone was a hotbed of racism.) With their faces rendered creepily anonymous by Prince’s painterly disguise, the white-bread nudes loom over the viewer like something from a Freudian monster-movie, while their muscular, dreadlocked consorts occasionally wield guitars or sprout elephantine feet. “Canal Zone” angles for ironies as witty and provocative as the artist’s earlier biker-chick photos (reprised here as a wraparound decal on a 1987 Buick), but reaches only the lower standards of his more recent pulp-fiction nurse paintings.

Image: Richard Prince, Untitled (Rasta), 2008