Richard Prince's claim from a 2011 lawsuit about him appropriating the work of Patrick Cariou that his aim is simply to "make great art that makes people feel good" is starting to feel a bit disingenous. It's difficult to look at his New Portraits series purely as an instance of appropriation as art. Downloading and making large prints of other people's instagram pictures changes the context of the images; printing them to include his own comments is a fitting way for Prince to leave his own mark on them.
Appropriation and remixing is part of the contemporary landscape and it opens up some fascinating and cogent works. But the other factor here is the presence and power of Richard Prince.
What's interesting about this work just gets clouded by the controversy of ownership though, and about Prince selling the work for $90,000 apiece. It would be so easy to head it off by collaborating more explicitly. Then everybody could concentrate on seeing these instagram images brought together large in the gallery context and we could discuss the art as art.
The Richard Prince of 2015 is no longer the lesser-known Richard Prince of Malboro fame. The democratic way that anonymous users appropriate and reuse images all over the web is not the same thing as the hegemonic assertion of power that this exhibition is. It's arguable that "images — even digital ones — are materials, and artists use materials to do what they do", as Jerry Saltz says in a review of the New Portraits show. But Prince's dominance gives him a way to exploit those materials in a way beyond what most artists are able to. It's a fitting response that the Suicide Girls, source of one of the appropriated images, are now offering versions of the Prince work for a fraction of the Prince price.