Bibliotheque nationale de France Opens Richard Prince American Prayer

Bibliothèque nationale de France presents Richard Prince: American Prayer, on view March 29 – June 26, 2011.

“An American Prayer” is a book of poems by Jim Morrison, who would have traded rock stardom for recognition as a legitimate artistic figure in a heartbeat. Seven years after his death, “An American Prayer” was the name of a posthumous album of his poetry recorded to music by the remaining Doors. On March 29, “American Prayer,” an exhibition of American literature and ephemera from the collection of American artist Richard Prince opens at the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Also on view will be artworks by Prince relating to books, an important source of both inspiration and materials for artistic practice, including two never-before-seen examples of his famous “Nurse” paintings from his personal collection.

In a purpose-built structure meant to evoke the wood-shingled houses of l’amérique profonde, Prince displays 40 of his American / English series (sculptures based on the first American and English editions of his favorite works) with 24 Untitled (original)s, which reunite pulp paperbacks with their original cover art. A selection of Prince artwork which derives from and/or pays homage to the book and the mechanically reproduced image – works from the series Publicities, Gangs, Cartoons, and even Hoods – encircle vitrines with treasures from the most important collection of twentieth-century Americana still in private hands.

Finally, a “Reading Room” provides a conceptual tour d’horizon of the complex interactions of art and the text in the digital age. The “greatest hits” of the Prince and BnF collections – precious books and manuscripts from the likes of James Joyce and Louis-Ferdinand Celine you can’t touch without getting arrested – are intercut with livres ireel (imaginary books) and iPads stuffed with Prince’s prolific output of artist’s books. Part bibliographic exhibition, part art installation, the show toys with the viewer’s preconceived notions of image and text, while presenting a fascinating taxonomy of American subcultures: cowboys, bikers, hoboes, hippies, and spacemen.

A book collector for nearly forty years, Prince has amassed a remarkable trove of works from what he describes as the “BeatHippiePunk” era: 1949 (the year of his birth) to 1984. It starts with the “Beats” – Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs, for sure, but also Nabokov (whose personal library relating to Lolita Prince owns) and J.D. Salinger. He has a particular faible for Hunter S. Thompson, whose Hell’s Angels and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas figure prominently in the mix; the hugely influential underground cineaste Jack Smith; Mario Puzo, whose manuscript for The Godfather will be on display; Truman Capote, whose letters to the convicted murderer Perry Smith are in the collection and Jimi Hendrix, as well as Robert Crumb and Yoko Ono…and of course Thomas Pynchon, Ken Kesey, Tom Wolfe, and Terry Southern. Prince has a special interest in a number of American writers better known and loved in France: Richard Brautigan, Philip K. Dick, Jim Thompson, and Chester Himes. Prince’s holdings of letters include Jimi Hendrix’s handwritten letters home to his father while he was in the army, and, later, on the road with Little Richard’s band; Kerouac’s letters to Malcolm Cowley, editor of On the Road; and a plethora of missives from those two incognito novelists, J.D. Salinger and Thomas Pynchon.

This would be an amazing aggregation of Americana from Mr. X, but the fact that it comes from Richard Prince is what makes this uniquely interesting. Prince’s collecting and his artistic practices are hard to separate…so why try?

An illustrated catalogue accompanies the exhibition. Published by Gagosian Gallery in association with the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the catalogue includes text excerpts from many of the aforementioned by books in the artist’s collection as well as essays by exhibition curators Bob Rubin and Marie Minssieux-Chamonard, and rare book collector John McWhinnie.

Image: Richard Prince, Dodge Charger, Swap eet, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, June 1990 © photograph by Richard Prince

Bibliothèque nationale de France
Quai François Mitterand
75713 Paris
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