In response to my recent post about Richard Prince’s new rubber band pieces at 303 Gallery, Raphael Rubinstien left this comment:
Prince’s joke is actually a very old one, and the original is much
better: Sigmar Polke did similar work with rubber bands in 1970,
lampooning Dürer’s famous “Hare”
I tried to find more information about Polke’s famous piece online, and, unable to uncover anything substantial, I sent Rubinstein a note asking for particulars. He responded with a post on his blog, suggesting that critical assessment of Prince’s work is remiss if Polke’s precedent, Gummibandbild Dürer-Hase
(Rubberband Dürer Hare) from 1970 is not mentioned. Here is Rubinstein’s wonderful description of Polke’s piece:
In the late 1960s, Polke, fresh out
of the Düsseldorf Art Academy, made several works parodying Dürer’s 1502
watercolor, which had long been a ubiquitous, clichéd image in Germany.
In 1968, Polke painted a crude sketch of the hare, along with Dürer’s
monogram, onto a rectangle of commercially printed fabric. The rubber
band piece of two years later features pins stuck into a piece of taut
blue fabric. When rubberbands are stretched between the pins, the result
is an outline of Dürer’s hare and his A.D. monogram.
Rubinstein also implies that Prince, by making a series of rubber band paintings and turning a one-liner into a “body of work,” is less pure than Polke, who only made one:
as I know, Polke only made one rubber-band painting. This was an artist
amazingly rich in new ideas; he made his point and moved on. Polke also
no doubt realized that to turn his invention into a formula would rob it
of any wit and subversive impact.
I disagree with both points Rubinstein makes. Plenty of artists, perhaps not as well known as Polke, have used rubber bands in their work–Sheila Hicks and Sheila Pepe come to mind–so I don’t see that Polke’s single rubber band painting should necessarily be considered a precedent. Polke and Prince use the rubber bands in similar ways visually, but conceptually the work strikes me as very different. Unless Prince was, in fact, aware of the Hare, and appropriated Polke’s gesture in order to critique the current exploration of casualist abstraction, the existence of Polke’s Hare is an interesting footnote, but not essential to the story. If Prince is referring to Hare, then making a series, rather than a single piece, is a brilliant reference to serial projects, adding to the “wit and subversive impact.” Considering Prince’s statement about the work and his penchant for materiality, the notion that his rubber band abstractions refer to Polke’s Hare seems farfetched–using similar materials doesn’t necessarily imply that a relationship exists between the two. Just because Polke used rubber bands to outline a shape earlier than Prince did, does that make Prince’s work less interesting?
Sheila Pepe. Image courtesy Pepe’s website.
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