Richard Prince was born on August 6, 1949, in the U.S.-controlled Panama Canal Zone, now part of the Republic of Panama. During an interview in 2000 with Julie L. Belcove, he responded to the question of why his parents were in the Zone, by saying “they worked for the government.” When asked further if his father was involved in the military, Prince responded, “No, he just worked for the government.” Prince later lived in the New England city of Braintree, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston.
Richard Prince was first interested in the art of the American abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock. “I was very attracted to the idea of someone who was by themselves, fairly antisocial, kind of a loner, someone who was noncollaborative.” Prince grew up during the height of Pollock’s career, making his work accessible. The 1956 Time magazine article dubbing Pollock “Jack the Dripper” made the thought of pursuing art as career possible. After finishing high school in 1967, Prince set off for Europe at age 18.
He returned home and attended Nasson College in Maine. He describes his school as without grades or real structure. From Maine he was drawn to New York City. Prince has said that his attraction to New York was instigated by the famous photograph of Franz Kline gazing out the window of his 14th Street studio. Prince described the picture as “a man content to be alone, pursuing the outside world from the sanctum of his studio.”
Prince’s first solo exhibition took place in June 1980 during a residency at the CEPA gallery in Buffalo, New York. His short book Menthol Pictures was published as part of the residency.
In late 2007, Prince had a retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, a comprehensive show hung in chronological order along the upward spiraling walls. The show continued onto the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Maria Morris Hamburg, the curator of photography at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, asserted, “He is absolutely essential to what’s going on today, he figured out before anyone else—and in a very precocious manner—how thoroughly pervasive the media is. It’s not just an aspect of our lives, but the dominant aspect of our lives.”