Marlboro Man Meets LACMA

Ysabella Atehortua, Editor in Chief

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The first thing I noticed when walking into the Untitled (Cowboy) exhibit was the sheer size of the photographs. Richard Prince filled the LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Arts) space with 6 feet by 8 feet prints that really place you in the photo. You can see every small detail and begin to feel as if it is not a photo as you continue to stare. You instead feel like you are watching the scene right before your eyes.

  The photos are also reminiscent of the Western movies I would watch as a child. The Marlboro man, as depicted by Prince, is shown to be straight from the American West. Without the context of knowing that the pictures were originally from the Marlboro ads, I would never have guessed because they look so nonchalaunt and cinematic. They simply depict the cowboys as you would see on the road; there is no script or even the image of a cigarette in frame. The only place where you can tell that the pictures first came from somewhere else are the places in which the image seems to be ripped. The edges are jagged in some places, the white streaks covered with what looks to be a clear piece of tape.

  The white walls, crisp lines, and large groups of people made the exhibit setting contrast clearly from the photos. The photos were of the earth, of cowboys whereas, the setting was in a industrial looking building in which the only lively colors were that of the museum-goers outfits. This had an interesting effect on the photos because although the two contrasted greatly. he photos were so large that it almost did not matter; you were pushed into the scene anyways.

  There were several photos in this exhibit that worked well to portray the motif of the American West and the cowboy. With all of them together, Prince clearly creates a clear picture of what he is trying to convey. His theme of cowboys are clear and ever present. The fact that he was the only photographer in the exhibit also worked towards his advantage, as, there were no other photos to muddle his theme.

  Because the photos were mounted onto the wall, it added to the idea of stability and strength of the cowboys that were depicted in the photographs.

  In addition to the Marlboro Man pictures, there was a sculpture made out of bronze that was also dressed in the style of a cowboy. The sculpture was elevated to waist height so the viewer was at the height of the little boy. It was reminiscent of a child playing dress up. The outfit was stereotypical and overdramatized in comparison to the pictures of the men in plaid and basic jeans as shown in the Marlboro man series. The sculpture added to the theme and I believe made the overall message more complex due to the different settings in which people often see cowboys in their everyday life.

  Adding to the idea of seeing cowboys in everyday life, another photo by him featured an Instagram post in which three women are scandalously dressed in cowboy hats, short shorts, and cropped plaid tops. They were all on a motorcycle. The effect of this piece on the overall gallery was to add yet another layer onto the idea that people see cowboys a lot in their everyday lives. In seeing the photograph in a social media setting, it becomes more familiar for the viewers that take part in social media. Having such a mundane thing that many people see in their everyday lives in a gallery setting was an interesting juxtaposition because it makes the viewer question what is really considered art.

   The Instagram art popped out of the wall and was more matte than the pictures of the Marlboro man. This perhaps added to the contrast between life and art because posts like these are typically seen on a glossy phone screen. Also, the pictures of the Marlboro man were glossy and the viewer can see their reflection in some parts of it because of the way the space was lit. The two contrast a lot, but tell the same story.

   Without the context of the photos being appropriated from the Marlboro man ads, I would never had known that they were selling anything. They simply document the lives of cowboys for me, which perhaps was the main point. To think that these were ads makes me wonder why the marketers chose to use them. Maybe they wanted to show cigarettes as a manly thing, or some kind of an outlaw idea. Either way, the show was beautiful and immersive.

  Richard Prince’s Untitled Cowboy will be showing at the Los Angeles County Museum of Arts until late February.

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