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Richard Prince

Georgia Museum of Art

Artist Richard Prince has appropriated works from all over American culture throughout his career. He may be best known for his “rephotographs” in which he photographed existing photographs, then enlarged them. Starting in the mid-nineteen eighties, he began making a series of works about jokes. He started with handwritten jokes on pieces of paper, then began silkscreening the text of jokes on painted canvas. One, for example, reads “I never had a penny to my name, so I changed my name.” Prince sees jokes as expressing the American subconscious and has said “Being funny is a way to survive”

In 2013, he bought the joke files of American comedian Milton Berle. These upright file cabinets contained thousands of jokes typewritten on three by five index cards, arranged by subject. As you’d expect, he then started making art based on those files, photographing them and then printing his photos on canvas. You can see the results in the exhibition “Richard Prince: Tell Me Everything,” on view at the Georgia Museum of Art February 10 through June 16, along with one of the joke paintings and Berle’s file cabinets.

Unlike the joke paintings, Prince’s images of the joke files don’t show the actual jokes, just their subjects, arranged in categories like argument, rent, moving, maid, luggage and so on. The title of the exhibition comes from the first joke Prince came across in a secondhand bookshop: “I went to see a psychiatrist. He said, ‘Tell me everything.’ I did, and now he's doing my act.” Ba dump bump.