We Talked to the Suicide Girls About Richard Prince's "Appropriation Art"

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You can't put a price on a moment, but you can sell an image. Richard Prince knows this; and he's spent the better part of his career working with the gray nature of images—rephotographing and tweaking them just enough to deem them his own. His "appropriation art” has become more popular and more controversial as photography has taken to new platforms like Facebook and Instagram, and most recently his lauded Instagram works, New Portraits, sold to the tune of $90,000 a piece at Frieze New York. 

Many see the resultant artworks as stolen and unfairly used, while others consider it merely an expression of our modern era. From precedent-setting lawsuits to public support from art's fiercest critics, Prince's rephotographed portraits have made an indelible dent in pop culture—enough so, that one particular set of subjects have appropriated Prince's newest prints for themselves, co-opting Prince’s format for their own ends. 

"The thing about Prince’s theft of the images is that it feels like such a violation by someone who doesn’t get it," Suicide Girls Founder Missy Suicide tells me over the phone. "Richard Prince started a conversation and, you know, he's been doing this for years—appropriating images and art—and I feel like we're finally continuing the conversation." 

Photo: Marco Scozzaro/Frieze

It's after 7 PM in our New York office, hours after her response to Richard Prince's appropriation of a number of Suicide Girls Instagrams has gone viral. Just as Prince "transformed" screenshots of their original images into his New Portraits works by printing them onto large canvases and adding his own captions to the bottom of each comment thread, the Suicide Girls have taken what they feel are stolen works and reclaimed them for themselves. They've added their own captions beneath Prince's, and as Missy announced yesterday via Reddit AMA, are selling them as posters on their own site for $90—a 99.9% markdown from Prince's cost of each piece. Eyesonwalls.com is showing their support by printing each of the 48.75'' x 65.75'' inkjet on canvas posters at-cost, and 100% of the proceeds will be donated to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an internet freedom advocacy group.

"At first we were a little stunned, but our portraits are compelling, our girls are visually beautiful and unique—they're kind of 'of-the-moment' right now in culture—they're fiercely sexy and unapologetic about their bodies and their beauty, and they're hugely popular on Instagram," Missy says. "If I had to get in his head into why he chose them, you know, I can't really speak to why he chose those ones over other ones... But our girls definitely take artistically-beautiful shots, and we think that they're the most beautiful girls in the world."

"I don't know if his art is really groundbreaking or what-not, but it definitely feels like $90,000 is a way lot to pay for anything, other than like a house or a car or something," she laughs. "While he used our art to start a discussion, we don't know anybody that can spend $90K on a piece of art. We decided to create something that the people that are featured in the art can actually afford."

 

 

Even Prince, it seems, is amused, going so far as to laud Missy on Twitter. He's also apparently been sending copies of his Instagram works to his subjects. And the support for Missy's mission has been widespread and well-received; after just a day of availability, the Suicide Girls sold about 250 prints—just a fraction of one Prince. But profits, in this case, might not be what's most important about the effort: "Instagram is such an expression of our identity and to have an old dude steal them and get paid such a significant fee for them hurt," Missy explains in a follow-up email. "We have seen more attention from media and have received tons of messages of support, it has been a little overwhelming, in a good way."

As for the Suicide Girls' new audience, says Missy, "The art world is kind of a mystery as to what becomes popular and what doesn't—whether it's merit-based or not just seems a little 'Emperor's New Clothes." 

But what would happen if their works, ultimately, aren't transformative enough to qualify for Prince's Fair Use precedents? On one hand, the Suicide Girls are playing by the same rules. But on the other, they're applying his very same practice. "You mean if he sues us for copyright infringement?" Missy laughs, echoing back my question. "That would be fucking awesome. He can go right ahead." 

Click here to order Suicide Girls Instagram Art posters of your very own, and here to read Missy Suicide's blog. 

i-D: how the suicide girls took their instagram back from richard prince

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