The contemporary art market is “almost a fraud,” the billionaire art dealer David Nahmad famously said to the Independent on Sunday several years ago, following another interview in Forbes in which he called the work of artists like Jeff Koons and Richard Prince “luxury products.” Asked about his comments, another member of the prominent clan weighed in: “I don’t think Richard Prince decided to waste his life making trash, so to someone they’re worth something,” Helly Nahmad, of the eponymous London-based gallery, told the Financial Times in 2011. “What they’re worth is a different argument.”
So consider Nahmad Contemporary’s exhibit “Richard Prince: Fashion” a calculated rejoinder. Opening tomorrow at the gallery of David Nahmad’s son Joseph, the show marks the first time all nine of Prince’s rephotographed fashion advertisements, completed from 1982 to 1984, have been shown together. “Richard jokes that I wasn’t even born when these works were made,” says the 24-year-old Joseph Nahmad, who adds that his favorite Prince piece is a monochromatic 1987 canvas emblazoned with the one-liner, “I never had a penny to my name, so I changed my name.” The younger Nahmad calls Prince “the Warhol of this generation.” Prince and Warhol shared both a birthday and an ease with repurposed subjects; Nahmad posits the idea of appropriation, once so radical, as a historical legacy “deeply entrenched in the way art is thought about today.”
Like his landmark “Cowboy” series, Prince’s “Fashion” photographs transform advertising imagery into art through a subtle shift that now seems routine: crop, filter and repost. (Prince has more recently taken Instagram screengrabs and blown them up onto canvas.) In each work, the model’s face is partially obscured — by a swoop of bangs, a shadow, sunglasses or a cloche. “I think it reflects how we often blindly comply to society’s conventions,” says Nahmad, who went into the family business in 2013. “With Richard’s work, the formal beauty is the first thing that strikes you, but the reason it resonates and stays with you is in understanding how radical the work is. In pirating a joke or an image from an ad and calling it his own, at that time, he redefined the rules of art.”
“Richard Prince: Fashion” runs March 3 through April 18 at Nahmad Contemporary, 980 Madison Ave, Third Floor, New York, nahmadcontemporary.com.
Correction: March 3, 2015
An earlier version of this post misidentified the source of a quotation by David Nahmad. It was Forbes — not the Independent on Sunday — that quoted him using the term "luxury products" to describe the work of artists like Jeff Koons and Richard Prince.