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The subject of a Richard Prince portrait called his work “a reckless, embarrassing, and uninformed critique.”

Christy Kuesel
Nov 4, 2019 5:23PM, via ARTnews

Installation view of “Richard Prince: Portraits” at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. Photo courtesy Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit.

Richard Prince’s latest staging of his controversial “New Portraits” series has drawn backlash from one of the portrait subjects, who said she didn’t consent to her inclusion in the show, which she called “a reckless, embarrassing, and uninformed critique of social media and public domain.” In the “New Portrait” series, which Prince has been showing since 2014, the artist reproduces Instagram posts as large inkjet prints on canvas—without asking the original posters of those images for permission.

Zoë Ligon, a sex educator and sex toy shop owner in Detroit, who also runs a Instagram account with over 270,000 followers, took to the social media platform on Saturday to decry Prince’s recently-opened show at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD). She wrote:

What Richard is doing is questionably legal, but even if something is legal and “starts a dialogue” it doesn’t mean you should actually do it. Not all legal things are ethical. [. . .] This is appropriation artwork. This isn’t progressive, this isn’t even subversive. Maybe it was when he began doing this in 1977, but in 2019 it’s tone deaf.

Ligon added that she is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and took “sexy selfies” to reclaim her own sexualized image. She had been unaware of the inclusion of an image of her in the show until she saw a tweet Prince had posted.

Elysia Borowy-Reeder, director of MOCAD, told ARTnews she had met with Ligon prior to the show’s opening and offered to take the portrait down. Ligon said she wouldn’t want it removed unless all of the works in the exhibition were removed. “MOCAD has no plans to censor the entire exhibition,” Borowy-Reeder said in a statement quoted by ARTnews.

Ligon’s concerns are not the first time Prince has found himself in hot water for his appropriative work. Photographer Donald Graham sued the artist in 2015 for his inclusion of one of Graham’s Instagram posts in a 2014 Gagosian show. Prince’s infamous “Canal Zone” series, which featured modified versions of image by French photographer Patrick Cariou, was the focal point of one of the most closely watched art lawsuits in recent memory.

Further Reading: When Does an Artist’s Appropriation Become Copyright Infringement?

Christy Kuesel