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First House.

When I first met Richard Prince, in 1985, he was living-in a suburban tract house in Venice, California. He had two noisy muscle cars splotched with patches of primer paint that he prowled around town in, two male roommates I never laid eyes on, and a tiny little room of his own. In the closet in his stark white cell was a wardrobe of black and white clothing carefully selected for maximum anonymity. Next to his bed was a stack of magazines--Parakeet Fancier, Low Rider, and other oddball stuff. There were barbells in the den, baloney in the refrigerator, and a curved sectional sofa hugging a massive TV set in the front room. I had the feeling Richard was living there in some weird, undercover kind of way--doing field research or something. It was a strange scene, a piercingly lonely dwelling.

Richard's next house? A condemned Hollywood tract home that he transformed earlier this year into a high-profile art project titled First House. Clearly the mutant child of the Venice house, the place, now demolished, was defiled in a really peculiar way: piles of garbage in a yard overgrown with thigh-high weeds, a "sculpture" of neatly arranged junk-food boxes in the kitchen, Richard's joke paintings leaning here and there in the house and in the yard. These jokes were exceptionally dark and mean. Big black and white silk-screen paintings of boxers were stacked against a wall in a tiny back bedroom, a wall heater in the hall had been converted into a magazine rack stocked with cult periodicals, and the bedroom closet was solidly packed with cast-off clothes. There was no internal harmony to the layout of this house, and the sad little rooms felt like cubicles where people might've taken a lot of Quaaludes in the not-too-distant past. "Tulsa" people--Larry Clark's spirit was there. What was the soundtrack here? Maybe a really bad song by ABBA.

Some people call Richard a sexist, others a wiseguy appropriationist, a fourth-generation conceptual artist, bastard offspring of Andy Warhol. That's not the hit I get at all: I think Richard's one of the great tragedians of the late 20th century. He adopts a real scorched-earth policy in his interpretation of the American Dream--and, of course, nothing embodies the American Dream more succinctly than tract housing. Richard's work is heavy with pathos and loss, if one is of a mind to tune in on that wavelength, and in the 1993 house in particular, the circuitry of human relations was completely shorted out and charred. That house was blasted.

Kristine McKenna is a Los Angeles-based writer who covers the arts.
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Title Annotation:conceptual art
Author:Arnaud, Michel
Publication:Artforum International
Article Type:Illustration
Date:Dec 1, 1993
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