Court Jester: Is Richard Prince Using the Legal System as a Medium?
by Dan Duray
In the 1990s, the critic Rosalind Krauss argued against the concept of traditional mediums, like painting and sculpture, favoring instead the term “technical support,” which to her better describes the way contemporary art works.
Take Ed Ruscha, she wrote in one essay. His photographs of American gas stations and parking lots are conceptual, so it wouldn’t be right to say photography is his medium. Instead of paint, he uses the automobiles themselves, and all the cultural touchstones neatly packed into their trunks.
Last week, lawyers for Richard Prince and the photographer Patrick Cariou went to court in the latest hearing of a copyright infringement case that has begun to resemble technical support, or some kind of extended medium, for the 31 paintings in question. Any case where lawyers argue what is or isn’t art tends to have some kind of critical value, if only because it serves as a kind of plain-English catalog essay reduction. The Prince case goes beyond this, though, and begins to enter the realm of technical support in the artist’s bizarre refusal to defend his works on a basic level, which, regardless of Mr. Prince’s intent, makes a curious statement about them at a time when the courts have, in some instances, become a place for artistic expression.