Today in shit that you’d already know if you ever read Terms of Service agreements, it turns out that profitable reappropriation is really easy in the internet age.
This has been most recently demonstrated by New York artist Richard Prince whose New Portraits exhibition involves just under 40 prints of Instagram photos, some of them selling for up to $100,000. And wow, the internet is really pissed about something that’s hardly new.
The New Portraits series was on display at NYC’s Gagosian Gallery last year, but it seems like people are only getting mad now that a bunch of them sold. Prince has been a prominent figure in appropriation art since the early ’80s and has thrived off evoking anger with his work many times over three decades. He has such a thorough understanding of appropriation art’s place in a litigious society, that his previous works have even set copyright precedents. Granted, it might suck that Prince can make up to $100,000 by using something you photographed but when you put it out on the internet for free and someone else takes it, modifies it, and sells it under fair use, you’ve got to accept that you probably weren’t going to profit from that image in the first place.
Some websites have accused Richard Prince of “bypassing” copyright laws by modifying the images to appear in a slightly different context to the way they were originally displayed. That doesn’t seem like the deepest of criticisms, essentially saying that he very carefully made sure his reproductions were not infringing upon anyone’s creative rights. It also seems redundant when there’s a lot of valid criticisms that have been lobbed at this series of works.
It’s okay to dislike what Richard Prince is doing. It’s okay to think that appropriation art is verging on stagnation. But if you put your work out onto the internet via social media and someone changes enough of it to be considered transformative, parodic, or containing lawful attribution, then there’s really not much you can do besides learn from the experience. If you’re still angry about it, why not find one of the sold works, take a few snaps of it, and make a couple hundred selling the photos? After all, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
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