Richard Prince is a Jerk

Richard Prince is a Jerk

There are many people who have studied and understand the art world better than me. But there is one thing that I’m sure of: Richard Prince is a jerk.

I say this for two reasons. First, I haven’t read anything that suggests he has the self-awareness and intellectual rigor that is bestowed upon him by fawning critics. The pro-Prince camp suggests that he is purposely stretching the concepts of intellectual property ownership, but I counter that he is intellectually lazy. (And even if he had the mental prowess of Socrates, it would make his “art” all the more inexcusable.)

Second, he is a thief.

He was a thief when he stole Sam Abell’s cowboy image from a Marlboro ad in 1977.


He was a thief when he stole Garry Gross’ image of Brooke Shields in 1983.

He was a thief when he stole 35 images from Patrick Cariou in 2008 (one of them sold for $2.5 million).


And he was a thief when he stole brazenly stole 38 images from other people’s Instagram feeds and sold them for upwards of $100,000 each.


Art critic Jerry Saltz contends that everything is source material nowadays, so the notion that Prince is stealing is some strange anachronism of an era where people deserved to be paid for their ideas. Sure. Everything inspires everything. But this isn’t an excuse to blatantly steal. If I plagiarize a column from Saltz and replace his byline with mine, would he consider it genius? If Prince wants to sample, then he should pay for the source material like everyone else, and stop hiding behind some false veil of “genius” and “fair use.”

Paddy Johnson, a much more esteemed critic than me, also thinks Richard Prince Sucks.

As Sam Abell notes, there is inherent bias in the art world that values appropriation over editorial work. A simple, self-important label entitles the art world (i.e. Larry Gagosian) and its collectors to inflate the value of Prince’s dishonest work. The irony runs thick given that the same people probably insist on drinking fair trade coffee and wearing ethical fashion, yet they support the theft of photos from hard working, unrecognized and uncompensated photographers. Does the work somehow lose credibility by acknowledging the source? Does stealing give some twisted legitimacy to the “art?” Has the art world lost its fucking mind?

Perhaps Richard Prince is talented – his paintings suggest that this could be so. But rephotographing works by others without acknowledgement nor compensation is proof to me that Richard Prince is a jerk.


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This article was written by

Allen Murabayashi is the Chairman and co-founder of PhotoShelter.

There are 14 comments for this article
  1. Robb Scharetg at 12:15 pm

    Mr. Murabayashi,

    I’m surprised by the fact that my reply is the first! Must be the holiday carryover? No, more likely it’s the apathy of the afflicted, that and perhaps (?) fear of taking on ‘art world icons’.

    Mr. Prince is many things certainly, and most of the words that come to mind aren’t fit for tis forum. Artist is perhaps the last in a long list that I can come up with.

    When it comes to how he ‘creates his “art”, the most appropriate word that comes to my mind, isn’t ‘jerk’ . . . it’s thief: thief -THēf/noun/a person who steals another person’s property, especially by stealth and without using force or violence. Simply by definition, he IS a thief, plain & simple. And he doesn’t act alone – he has a large group of willing conspirators – ALL of whom aid & abet him. Hiding behind ‘fair use’ is a farce, and one allowed and supported by a large team of corporate lawyers, paid for by his lackeys and supporters.

    First among them is would seem to be Larry Gagosian and his eponymous gallery. After Mr. Prince, I’d assume he & his gallery has the most to lose if Mr. Prince’s ‘talent’ (or lack thereof) is unmasked. If I remember correctly that’s one of the reasons why Mr. Gagosian was named a co-defendant in the recent Cariou lawsuit – in effect for selling stolen goods . No, Mr. Gagosian needs the press (and resulting high sales prices) that Mr. Prince’s brazen and thus far successful thefts bring, to sustain his lifestyle. Then there are his fawning followers – ‘he’s genius, genius I tell you’, who may or may not have Mr. Prince deign to acknowledge them. Finally, there are his ‘collectors’ – in the eyes of the law if were we dealing with physical property they’d be considered to be in possession of stolen goods!!!

    Ironically, IF Mr. Prince HAD the balls to go into the homes and/or studios of Mr. Abell, Mr. Cariou and all the others from whom he’s ‘appropriated’ over the years (let’s call it what it is, shall we – stealing) they’d be well within their rights to beat his ass, perhaps worse, and THEN call the police.

    The times are apparently long past- I remember when Jeff Koons was taken down and nailed by the Courts (as opposed to a slap on the wrist) for stealing from Art Rogers. He too tried the ‘fair use’ argument – the 7th District had the sense to see Mr. Koons ‘appropriation’ for what it was (theft) and FINE him.

    I honestly fail to see HOW Mr. Prince has gotten away with this for this long.

    Perhaps, if there’s justice in the world, he’ll be on a beach, in a bar, or some other public place, and will come face-to-face with an irate Instagrammer. This person, lacking knowledge of IP law and Fair Use, and failing to understand how Mr. Prince feels entitled to use his/her work without adequate compensation, and not interested in the (fine) line between theft and fair-use, will take a few good swings at Mr. Prince. And knock him on his thieving ass. We can hope . . .

    God speed Mr. Prince – it’s one thing to steal from the finite world of known artists, it’s another to steal from the global world of social media – I’d not surprised if you get a long overdue TKO, soon.

    Robb Scharetg

  2. John Harrington at 4:41 pm

    Allen & Rob –

    I’ve got Richard Prince fatigue – in short, he’s definitely a thief, definitely a jerk, and definitely without a moral compass or ethical thought, and I’m tired of people celebrating or giving him publicity – my own comments here I make with reservation for that reason.

    That said, to the point, Rob, where he’s more of a thief than a jerk – I think the nuance is important. For example, I don’t see Jean Valjean (from les Mis) as a jerk for stealing – he stole, yes, but it was to feed his family, so while still a thief, he’s not a jerk. Allen, I think, was being publically kind (as compared to what Allen might say behind closed doors) in his characterization of Prince – but make no mistake about it, Prince is flipping the middle finger to artists everywhere, and laughing all the way to the bank. So – Jerk? Yes. Jackass? Yes. Jejeune? Yes. Juvenile? Yes. Jack-off? Yes. Did I say Jackass? Oh, yes, already, might as well do it a second time for emphasis.

    The laugh, will of course, be when the value of these plummets, but who knows, maybe that won’t happen, and maybe even, these first few reported sales are red herring – not actual sales but fabricated to create the suggestion of demand so others will?

    As for Sam and Cariou’s right to “beat his ass”, Sam has already said Marlboro owns those rights and I’d think Cariou would just stand by as some guys he paid kicked his ass so as to not sully his hands in the dirty work. That’s not to say he’s not deserving, but, rather, it’ll never happen – the worst that will happen is someone will spill red wine on his blazer during an opening, and apologize profusely. Of course, then, at the next opening Prince will have hung that wine-stained jacket on a mannequin and it will sell as “mixed media, Cabernet sauvignon and worsted wool” for another $100k, and Prince will still be laughing, but he will have atleast contributed something to the jacket art while the fumbling wine-toting guest will have contributed only an apology and they too will see how what they did was appropriated by Prince for his own gain.

    • Bárbara Herrnsdorf at 2:44 am

      Oh, the other thing I was thinking/wondering about is what about the people who are buying from Richard Prince? Why on earth would anyone? In a way, that seems almost worse… I mean, I might deplore what Prince is doing but I can understand his idiotic motivation, and in a sense, he is winning…but the buyers? Really? What the hell would motivate someone to over pay for someone else’s art in the first place? Why not go to the source? Why buy from someone notorious for this kind of thing? Sorry, but it reminds me of how I also feel about prostitution….and how, sure, on one hand it is kind of leaning on the side of crazy to be a prostitute, and again, while I don’t condone it, I also can see why someone might turn to it…but the johns? Them I really don’t understand either, just like I don’t understand these “art buyers.”

  3. Pingback: Opinion: Richard Prince is a Jerk | Chris Roubis Photography
  4. Gustavo Viteri at 7:20 am

    Ultimately, the fault lies not entirely on Mr. Prince . Part of the blame lies in the people who continue to buy his work knowing full well that it is not entirely of his creation. Stop buying his plagiarized work and he will eventually fade into obscurity.

  5. Bruce Feingold at 10:58 am


    Did you know Photoshelter hosts Richard Prince’s website? Wait. Hold off on the pitchforks. I’m talking about Richard Prince the automotive photojournalist. His site is

    As you can see, this Richard Prince has been forced to change his home page. He’s been receiving a lot of hate emails that should go to the jerk/thief. And, surprisingly, a few emails supporting the jerk. (Full disclosure, we’re friends and I assist and second shoot for him at times)

    But, one has to wonder, how this will affect his business going forward when people associate his name with that of the jerk/thief?

    • Allen Murabayashi Author at 10:48 pm

      That is definitely a terrible by-product of sharing the name with someone infamous. I would have to think that someone searching for the automotive photojournalist would be able to discern the two Richards on the basis of content alone, but I might be naive in that respect.

  6. John Morton at 4:55 pm

    As a struggling artist my knee jerk reaction was like most people’s in that I was frustrated. Frustrated because here is an established artist who is successful using other people’s works. But of course there is tons of precedent for this in the art world. And that’s when I started to come around.

    I don’t celebrate Richard Prince quite like Jerry Saltz, but I won’t try to take the title of artist away from him. If I had the means to spend that kind of money on art, there are tons of other things I would buy first. But Prince in controversial and controversy sells. If nothing else he has made people stand up and take notice. That alone may not excuse his actions, but to me it’s good to see the art world shaken up a bit.

    My further thoughts:

  7. Tom Kennedy at 5:29 pm

    It’s easy to scorn Richard Prince’s appropriation of images from Instagram as an act of blatant theft, but the bigger question – namely the failure of our legal and legislative system to provide an effective and affordable system of protections for artists – should not be ignored. For the first time in nearly 40 years, Congress and the Copyright Office are actively discussing Copyright Reform. The ASMP is working on a comprehensive response to the Copyright Office’s recent Notice of Inquiry on issues relating to the monetization, registration and protection of photographic and other imagery. I urge all photographers to contribute your stories and experiences to this effort. Visit to learn more. ~Tom Kennedy

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