The Image of the Skin Fetish: The Automobile in the Work of Richard Prince

By Charissa Terranova.

Published by The International Journal of the Image

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

In 2008, Richard Prince introduced a strain of work in which the car, body, and image became one. Prince had photographs of topless biker babes printed onto sheets of vinyl stretched over cars from the 70s and 80s - an El Camino, Buick Regal, and Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. As with Prince’s earlier work, the tactic of “appropriation” initiates a discussion of the original, copy, and simulacrum. Nudy pictures of hotrod chicks invoke a sense of voyeurism, questions of economic class and American white trash culture. Uniquely, however, the work marks a turn in the role of the “fetish” in Prince’s work.

Prince’s earliest work on the automobile elicited a well-recognized sense of fetishism wherein the car is a commodity fetish in which labor relations congeal (Marx) and a phallic substitute for desire (Freud). From monochromatic car hoods to bondo-ed automotive sculptures, Prince’s car-based art mirrored these fetish practices, both of which presuppose a conventional relationship between the subject-viewer and the art-object - until 2008. With the new body of work, Prince initiates a sense of the fetish in which subject collapses into object, bringing them into an ecological union by way of the image of the “skin-fetish” pulled taut over the body of the car. From this shift we understand not only a new sense of the fetish but also a new ethics of the image and object combined. No longer separate from the viewer, who is by implication both driver and gallery-goer, the image-as-woman and fetish-as-car combine and connect prosthetically to the viewer by way of the flesh, here imagined and mirrored in the form of a vinyl image. The image on/of the car is our skin-ego. Like cyborgs, we are the image; we are the car; we are the object.

Keywords: Fetish, Richard Prince, Marx, Freud, Didier Anzieu, Automobile, Car

The International Journal of the Image, Volume 1, Issue 2, pp.109-118. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 5.948MB).

Dr. Charissa Terranova

Assistant Professor of Aesthetic Studies, Arts & Humanities, University of Texas at Dallas, Dallas, Texas, USA

A graduate of Harvard University (PhD’ 04), Dr. Terranova is a writer and professor living in Dallas, Texas. She regularly writes art criticism for several local and national venues, including Art News, Sculpture Magazine, artltd., Art Lies, Art Papers, and A&C DFW. Her scholarly work has appeared in Urban History Review, Urban History, Thresholds, and Oase. She is currently completing a manuscript - Automotive Prosthetic: The Car, Technological Mediation, and the Conceptual Turn in Contemporary Art - which focuses on works of art dealing with the car as an ecological extension of the body and perceptual device. It is the first of two books in which she re-situates conceptual art according to the phenomenological experience of technology.