While most shows about collectors tend to focus on the collector’s passion for the work and sense for assembling it, this show highlights the collaborative process of building a collection. Richard Prince seems deliberate in what he chose to share with Turnbaugh, at times transforming their correspondence into mini-artworks by annotating magazine tear sheets, hotel stationery, or exhibition invitations, but also by allowing Turnbaugh access to a number of unfinished larger works and sketchbooks. In this way, Turnbaugh, a dance critic, producer and writer who had a loft in the same SoHo building as Prince in the 1970s, accumulated more than 200 objects made by the artist, primarily articles of ephemera (correspondence, publicity materials, a leather jacket) and some artworks (drawings, photographs, and photo-text works). At Edward Cella Art & Architecture, this panoply of material is displayed museum-style on the walls and in tabletop vitrines.
The exhibition is fascinating for its willingness to toe the line in showing work not necessarily endorsed by Prince. Notably, in 2007, the artist denied reproduction rights to the Neuberger Museum of Art at SUNY Purchase College for a catalogue to accompany an exhibition of his pre-1977 work (the date of Douglas Crimp’s legendary “Pictures” show at Artists Space), after which Prince’s identity as an appropriation artist coalesced. Some of the works in the Turnbaugh Collection are illuminating in this regard. While the show’s title advertises works from 1977-1988, several artworks are dated earlier and represent strategies abandoned by Prince in his mature “Pictures Generation” work. Several text-image works emphasize Prince’s early reliance on narrative in complicating the meaning of appropriated images. In Minding Him (Boy on a Ferry) (1976), two candid photographs of a young boy are accompanied by a hand-lettered, first-person narrative that describes an encounter with the boy. The photos look like surveillance images: made with a telephoto lens, the boy appears unaware of the camera. But Prince’s text makes us second-guess the authorial voice. Is this a photo that Prince made himself? If not, then who took it and why? As in “Spiritual America,” Prince’s 1983 exhibition of Gary Gross’ nude photograph of the 10-year-old Brooke Shields, in Minding Him (Boy on a Ferry) responsibility for looking rests with the audience. The surveillance style coupled with Prince’s vaguely suggestive text makes looking uncomfortable, precisely because the photograph’s context and authorship is so slippery.